After crashing out of his last three consecutive starts, including his latest two that nearly derailed his championship hopes, Sam Mayer capitalized after being in a “must-win” situation and earned a walk-off win into the Playoff’s Round of 8 by dominating from pole position and winning the sixth annual running of the Drive for the Cure 250 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course on Saturday, October 7.
The 20-year-old Mayer from Franklin, Wisconsin, led four times for a race-high 50 of 67 scheduled laps in an event in which he entered 34 points below the top-eight cutline and in a “must-win” situation to transfer to the next round after crashing and not finishing his previous two events. Commencing his weekend by winning the pole position, Mayer briefly lost the lead to teammate Justin Allgaier at the event’s start before claiming it for the first time on the fifth lap. Despite surrendering the lead to pit prior to the first two stage’s conclusion and sacrificing stage points, Mayer, who restarted in the top six with 11 laps remaining, capitalized on two late caution periods to overtake Cole Custer with four laps remaining and rocket away to score his third NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the 2023 season and be one of eight Playoff competitors to race their way into the Round of 8.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Playoff contender Sam Mayer started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 101.798 mph in 82.045 seconds. Joining him on the front row was teammate and Playoff contender Justin Allgaier, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 101.751 mph in 82.083 seconds.
Prior to the event, a bevy of names that included Playoff contender John Hunter Nemechek, Kyle Sieg, Ryan Sieg, Jeremy Clements, Conor Daly and Josh Williams dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.
When the green flag waved and the race started, teammates Mayer and Allgaier dueled for the lead amid two stacked lanes through the first three turns until Allgaier managed to muscle ahead from the inside lane and assume the lead through the infield road course turns. With the field navigating its way through the road course turns and back onto the oval turns, Allgaier managed to retain the lead as he proceeded to lead the first lap while Mayer, Josh Berry, Sheldon Creed and Daniel Hemric followed suit.
Through the second to fourth lap, Allgaier stabilized his advantage to as high as half a second over a hard-charging Mayer while Berry, Creed and Hemric remained in the top five. Behind, Parker Kligerman was in sixth while Cole Custer, Austin Hill, Riley Herbst and Alex Labbe were running in the top 10.
Through the fifth lap, Mayer, who used the frontstretch chicane to claim the lead back from Allgaier, was leading by four-tenths of a second over teammate Allgaier while Berry, Creed and Hemric were scored in the top five. Behind, Kligerman was in sixth ahead of Custer, Hill, Herbst and Alex Labbe while Kaz Grala, Brandon Jones, Jordan Taylor, rookie Chandler Smith and Kyle Weatherman were in the top 15. Meanwhile, Playoff contenders Sammy Smith and Jeb Burton were in 17th and 18th while John Hunter Nemechek was mired in 27th.
At the Lap 10 mark, Mayer continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over teammate Allgaier while Berry, Creed and Hemric retained their respective spots in the top five. With Custer, Kligerman and Hill running sixth through eighth, Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith and Jeb Burton were in 13th, 15th and 16th, respectively, while Nemechek was still back in 27th.
Seven laps later, a host of names that included Berry, Custer, Herbst, Labbe and Grala pitted under green. More names that included Connor Mosack, Brandon Jones, Jordan Taylor, Parker Retzlaff, Myatt Snider and Nemechek would follow suit on pit road before the leader Mayer pitted on Lap 18, just before pit road closed and as Allgaier reassumed the lead.
When the first stage period concluded on Lap 20, Allgaier, who had already secured his spot for the Playoff’s Round of 8 by virtue of winning the Playoff opener at Bristol Motor Speedway in September, claimed his 12th Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Hemric settled in second followed by Creed, Kligerman and Hill while Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith, Mayer, Jeb Burton and Josh Bilicki were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, a majority of the field led by Allgaier pitted while the rest led by Mayer remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Jeb Burton was penalized for speeding on pit road while Conor Daly was also penalized for his crew being over the pit wall too soon.
The second stage period started on Lap 24 as teammates Mayer and Berry occupied the front row. At the start, the field quickly fanned out entering the first turn as teammates Mayer and Berry dueled for the lead. After being locked in a dead even battle against Berry through the first three turns, Mayer muscled ahead from the outside lane and retained the top spot through the infield turns before blending back on the oval turns ahead of the field. As the field continued to jostle for spots back on the oval turns and through the backstretch chicane, Mayer was leading by nearly a second over teammate Berry while Custer, Riley Herbst and Alex Labbe followed suit. Mired within the on-track battles was the battle for the transfer spots to the Playoffs with Mayer, Hill, Chandler Smith, Creed and Sammy Smith currently scored above the cutline while Hemric, Kligerman, Berry and Jeb Burton were scored below the cutline.
Through the Lap 30 mark, Mayer extended his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Berry with Custer, Herbst and Labbe were in the top five. Behind, Nemechek, Brandon Jones, Allgaier, Hemric and Creed were in the top 10, Sammy Smith, Kligerman and Hill were running 12th through 14th, Chandler Smtih was in 20th and Jeb Burton was back in 28th.
Two laps later, Berry, who came into the event below the cutline, spun and backed his No. 8 High Rock Vodka Chevrolet Camaro into the wall in between Turns 3 and 4 while running second, which dropped him to 13th. Amid Berry’s incident, the race remained under green flag conditions as Mayer continued to extend his advantage by more than five seconds over Custer. With Herbst, Nemechek and Brandon Jones running in the top five, Playoff contenders Allgaier, Hemric, Creed and Kligerman were battling in the top 10 while Sammy Smith, Berry and Hill were in the top 14. Meanwhile, Chandler Smith was in 19th and Jeb Burton was up to 23rd.
By Lap 37, green flag pit stops ensued for a second time as Herbst pitted his No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang from third place followed by Hill, Grala, Berry, Myatt Snider, Mosack, Jordan Taylor, Sage Karam and Retzlaff as Mayer stabilized his lead by more than six seconds over Custer. Mayer then pitted during the following lap along with Custer, Jones and Allgaier as Nemechek assumed the lead just as pit road closed. Shortly after, Conor Daly drew a caution after he blew a left-rear tire and spun towards the outside wall in Turn 15 before he limped his damaged car and came to a stop towards the frontstretch chicane. Daly’s incident was enough for the second stage period scheduled to conclude on Lap 40 to conclude under caution. As a result, Nemechek, who had already secured his spot into the Round of 8 based on winning the previous Xfinity Playoff event at Texas Motor Speedway, captured his 10th Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season, Hemric followed suit in second while Kligerman, Creed, Labbe, Sammy Smith, Mayer, Chandler Smith, Bilicki and Stefan Parsons were scored in the top 10.
During the stage break, some led by Nemechek pitted for service while the rest led by Mayer remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Brandon Jones was penalized for speeding on pit road.
With 24 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as Mayer and Custer occupied the front row. At the start, Mayer used the outside lane to retain the lead from Custer through Turn 1. As the field behind jostled for positions, Mayer started to pull away from Custer while Allgaier was in third ahead of Herbst and Grala. By then, Hemric and Creed were currently tied for the eighth and final transfer spot to the Playoffs, with Hemric owning the tie-breaker by virtue of securing a higher result within the Round of 12, while Kligerman, who was in 12th, was two points below the cutline.
With 20 laps remaining and amid the on-track battles, Mayer extended his advantage to a second over Custer followed by Allgaier, Herbst and Grala while Hill, Berry, Connor Mosack, Ryan Sieg and Myatt Snider were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Kligerman was in 11th ahead of Hemric, Jeb Burton, Sammy Smith and Creed while Nemechek and Chandler Smith were in 17th and 18th, respectively.
Five laps later, Mayer continued to lead by more than a second over Custer while Allgaier, Herbst and Grala were in the top five. Meanwhile, Kligerman and Hemric were in ninth and 10th while Creed was back in 15th, which currently placed him a single point above the cutline over Hemric while Kligerman trailed the cutline by three points. In addition, Sammy Smith, who was in 14th, was five points above the cutline while Jeb Burton and Berry were currently scored out of the cutline. Shortly after, Hemric and Creed were scored tied for the final transfer spot after Hemric moved into 10th place on the track, with Creed in 15th and eighth-place Kligerman behind by two points while Sammy Smith was still scored above the cutline while running 14th on the track.
Then with 12 laps remaining, Allgaier pitted under green as Mayer continued to lead by more than a second over Custer. Shortly after, the caution flew due to debris reported in Turn 17. During the caution period, Allgaier along with Jeb Burton and Blaine Perkins remained on the track while the rest, led by Mayer, pitted.
Down to the final eight laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Jeb Burton and Allgaier dueled for the lead until trouble struck after Burton got sideways and sent him and Allgaier sliding into the wall, with Perkins also hitting the wall while slamming on the brakes as the caution quickly returned and Allgaier was left eliminated from contention. With the leaders wrecked, Custer assumed the lead followed by Mayer, Bery, Herbst and Hill.
During the proceeding restart with five laps remaining, Custer and Mayer dueled for the lead entering Turn 1 until Custer managed to muscle his No. 00 Haas Ford Mustang ahead entering Turn 2 and the infield turns. With Mayer keeping Custer within his sights, Custer retained the lead through infield turns and the oval turns. Amid Ryan Ellis getting into the wall and Brandon Jones spinning on the frontstretch, the race remained under green as Custer retained the lead back to the frontstretch ahead of Mayer, Berry, Herbst and Grala.
Then during the following lap, Mayer, who came into the event below the cutline and in a “must-win” situation, overtook Custer for the lead through Turn 4. Mayer’s move moved him back above the cutline. As a result, Creed was now scored a single point above Hemric on points and above the cutline with Kligerman behind by six points. Amid the battles, Sammy Smith was also scored above the cutline by three points.
During the proceeding laps, Mayer extended his advantage to more than a second over Custer with Berry, Herbst and Grala were in the top five. Behind, Kligerman was in sixth and scored five points below the cutline, Hemric was in sixth and scored two points below and Creed was in 10th behind teammate Hill while scored two points above the cutline.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Mayer remained as the leader by more than two seconds over Custer. With Custer unable to close the gap, Mayer was able to smoothly navigate his way around the infield road course and oval circuits for a final time before returning to the frontstretch chicane and crossing the finish line to claim his third checkered flag of the 2023 Xfinity season.
With the victory, Mayer notched his third NASCAR Xfinity Series career victory in his 80th series start, all occurring on road course events, and his first since winning at Watkins Glen International in August. The victory was also the sixth of the season for JR Motorsports and the 15th for the Chevrolet nameplate. By winning the Playoff’s Round of 12 finale, Mayer clinched his spot for the Round of 8 as he continues in his pursuit of winning his first Xfinity Series title.
“I knew we had time,” Mayer said on NBC. “Our car was so fast. What a day. We kicked their tails today. It just feels so great. Bonus points feel great, winning feels great. Winning solves everything. That’s the name of the game. Getting another shot at [the title], I think this is our second chance moment and I think we can make something out of it. Winning still feels great.”
Meanwhile, as Custer, Berry and Herbst finished second through fourth, Kligerman, who was locked in a tight battle against Kaz Grala for fifth place, made contact with Grala through the frontstretch chicane before he, Grala and a hard-charging Daniel Hemric crossed the finish line in a three-wide photo finish as Grala edged Kligerman and Hemric, respectively, to finish fifth. The sixth- and seventh-place results for Kligerman and Hemric, however, were not enough for both to transfer into the Round of 8 as Creed, who ended up 10th on the track, claimed the eighth and final transfer spot by two points over Hemric and four over Kligerman.
As a result, Creed joins Sam Mayer, John Hunter Nemechek, teammate Austin Hill, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith as competitors to transfer into the Playoff’s Round of 8 while Daniel Hemric, Parker Kligerman, Josh Berry and Jeb Burton were eliminated from title contention.
“[I] Just kind of stumbled our way through this first round to make it,” Creed said. “Really just fortunate that we have the luck we did at the times we did. At the end of the day, we need to bring faster race cars. Just proud of everyone’s fight. We can’t stumble our way through the next [round], that’s for sure.”
“It’s the way it is,” Hemric said. “Before the day started, I said I’m gonna be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. We were defeated this round. It’s the way it goes. We carry on. I put [my team] in a hole, for sure, there in Texas. I hate it for these guys. We got a long road ahead of us. It’s just part of the journey, man. Journey makes the man. Looking forward to what’s ahead and what’s ahead for this race team.”
“[I was saying] Just get every spot I could and hope something happen,” Kligerman said. “I just knew I had to pass people and I was just trying everything I could to get spots. I’m more upset because I love the pressure of all of this. I love the idea of fighting for something so big like we were, but it’s been a big achievement to be a part of the Playoffs for this race team. I think I can be a better driver in 2024 than I was this year for [the team]. Man, I feel like every move, aside from that one restart, I felt like we were money. Just not enough.”
There were 10 lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 12 laps. In addition, 33 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. Sam Mayer, 50 laps led
2. Cole Custer, four laps led
3. Josh Berry
4. Riley Herbst
5. Kaz Grala
6. Parker Kligerman
7. Daniel Hemric
8. John Hunter Nemechek, two laps led, Stage 2 winner
9. Austin Hill
10. Sheldon Creed
11. Sammy Smith
12. Chandler Smith
13. Ryan Sieg
14. Myatt Snider
15. Alex Labbe
16. Jordan Taylor
17. Brennan Poole
18. Stefan Parsons
19. Rajah Caruth
20. Josh Williams
21. Leland Honeyman
22. Parker Retzlaff
23. Jeremy Clements
24. Connor Mosack
25. Josh Bilicki
26. Kyle Weatherman
27. Sage Karam
28. Blaine Perkins
29. Brandon Jones
30. Anthony Alfredo
31. Joe Graf Jr.
32. Kyle Sieg
33. Alex Guenette
34. Jeb Burton, one lap down, one lap led
35. Conor Daly, one lap down
36. Ryan Ellis – OUT, Accident
37. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Accident, 10 laps led, Stage 1 winner
38. Brett Moffitt – OUT, Ignition
*Bold indicates Playoff competitors
1. John Hunter Nemechek – Advanced
2. Justin Allgaier – Advanced
3. Sam Mayer – Advanced
4. Cole Custer – Advanced
5. Austin Hill – Advanced
6. Chandler Smith – Advanced
7. Sammy Smith – Advanced
8. Sheldon Creed – Advanced
9. Daniel Hemric – Eliminated
10. Parker Kligerman – Eliminated
11. Josh Berry – Eliminated
12. Jeb Burton – Eliminated
The Round of 8 in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is scheduled to commence next Saturday, October 14, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event’s broadcast is slated to occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.