Mayer clinches Championship 4 berth with late Xfinity victory at Homestead

Two weeks after keeping his championship hopes alive by earning a walk-off victory in the Playoff’s Round of 8 finale at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Sam Mayer will officially race for his first NASCAR Xfinity Series championship after achieving a late victory in the Contender Boats 250 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, October 21.

The 20-year-old Mayer from Franklin, Wisconsin, led three times for 46 of 200-scheduled laps in an event where he started 13th and made his presence at the front known at the start of the second stage period while scoring a handful of stage points during the first two stage periods. Then after assuming the lead with 49 laps remaining while pole-sitter and Playoff rival Cole Custer pitted under green due to a flat tire, Mayer, who pitted with under 37 laps remaining for his final set of tires, withstood two late restarts, including the final one with 23 laps remaining, to fend off a hard-charging Riley Herbst and claim his fourth Xfinity Series victory of the 2023 season. Above all, Mayer punched his ticket into this year’s Championship 4 round as he will contend for the 2023 Xfinity Series title at Phoenix Raceway in two weeks’ time.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, October 20, Playoff contender Cole Custer secured the pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 165.604 mph in 32.608 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff contender John Hunter Nemechek, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 164.704 mph in 32.786 seconds.

Prior to the event, Patrick Emerling and Ryan Ellis 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, Custer used the outside lane to rocket away from Nemechek and retain the lead through the first two turns. With the field fanning out and jostling for early spots through the backstretch, Custer proceeded to lead the first lap while Nemechek was overtaken by Justin Allgaier and Austin Hill for second and third place. Josh Berry would follow suit during the following along with rookie Sammy Smith while Custer was leading by half a second.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Custer retained the lead by half a second over Allgaier followed by Nemechek, Hill, and Berry while Sammy Smith, Sam Mayer, Brett Moffitt, Riley Herbst and Ryan Sieg were in the top 10. Behind, rookie Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed were in the top 15 along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Kaz Grala and Daniel Hemric were a part of the battle.

Ten laps later, Custer stretched his advantage to a second over Nemechek followed by Allgaier, Hill and Sammy Smith while Mayer, Herbst, Berry, Moffitt and Creed occupied the top 10 on the track. Behind, Chandler Smith was in 13th ahead of Hemric and Earnhardt Jr. while Ryan Sieg and Grala were in the top 12. In addition, Ryan Newman was running in the top 20.

At the Lap 35 mark, Custer continued to lead by more than a second over Nemechek as Allgaier, Mayer and Creed were in the top five. Behind, Herbst occupied sixth place ahead of Moffitt, Hill, Grala and Sammy Smith while Chandler Smith, Parker Kligerman, Daniel Hemric, Earnhardt Jr. and Berry were in the top 15.

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 45, Custer, who came into the event 15 points above the top-four cutline to transfer into the Playoff’s Championship 4 round, captured his eighth Xfinity stage victory of the 2023 season. Mayer settled in second ahead of Nemechek, Creed and Moffitt while Allgaier, Herbst, Hill, Grala and Hemric were scored in the top 10. By then, Playoff contenders Chandler Smith and Sammy Smith were mired in 11th and 14th, respectively.

Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Custer pitted. Following the pit stops, Custer retained the lead after exiting pit road ahead of Mayer, Creed, Nemechek, Allgaier and Herbst. Amid the pit stops, Brandon Jones was penalized for his crew members’ going over the wall too soon. Josh Williams was also penalized for pit interference.

The second stage period started on Lap 52 as Custer and Mayer occupied the front row. At the start, Custer and Mayer dueled for the lead for nearly a lap. Mayer would lead the following lap by a hair until Custer fought back and reassumed the top spot by Lap 54. Another few laps later, Allgaier made his way into the runner-up spot over teammate Mayer as Nemechek and Hill trailed in the top five.

At the Lap 60 mark, Custer was leading by six-tenths of a second over Allgaier followed by Mayer, Nemechek and Hill while Herbst, Kligerman, Berry, Creed and Chandler Smith were racing in the top 10.

Seven laps later, the caution flew after Dawson Cram wrecked in Turn 1 and lost his left-rear wheel in the process. During the caution period, the front-runners led by Custer remained on the track while select names that included Jeremy Clements, Derek Kraus, Brennan Poole and Kyle Sieg pitted for fresh tires.

When the race restarted on Lap 72, Custer and Nemechek briefly dueled for the lead until Nemechek muscled ahead with the lead from the inside lane. With Nemechek driving away from the field, Mayer and Custer battled for the runner-up spot followed by Allgaier and Kligerman while Hill and Herbst followed suit along with a hard-charging Kraus.

Then on Lap 78, Kraus, who pitted during the previous caution period, assumed the lead from Nemechek. Kraus would proceed to lead just past the Lap 80 by more than a second over Nemechek as Custer, Mayer and Allgaier were scored in the top five. By then, Kyle Sieg was in sixth while Hill, Kligerman, Herbst and Hemric were in the top 10. By then, Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith and Creed were in 11th, 12th and 14th while Earnhardt Jr. was in 13th.

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 90, Kraus, who was making his seventh Xfinity career start, captured his first Xfinity career stage victory. Nemechek settled in second ahead of Custer, Mayer and Allgaier while Kligerman, Kyle Sieg, Herbst, Hill and Hemric were scored in the top 10. 16, 18 and 2 in 11th, 12th and 14th while Earnhardt Jr. was back in 16th.

Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Custer returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Custer retained the lead after exiting pit road first. Amid the pit stops, Berry was penalized for speeding on pit road.

With 104 laps remaining, the final stage started as Custer and Allgaier occupied the front row. At the start, Custer and Allgaier dueled for the lead through the first two turns and they continued to battle dead even entering the backstretch. Shortly after, the caution returned after Playoff contender Chandler Smith, who was battling for a top-10 spot on the track, was hit by teammate Kraus, who was being rubbed by Brandon Jones, before Smith bounced off of Creed and spun before he was then hit by Brett Moffitt.

During the following restart with 97 laps remaining, Allgaier benefitted from restarting on the inside lane as he muscled away from Custer to inherit the lead. Amid the battles ensuing behind the leaders, Allgaier would lead the next eight laps before Custer reassumed the lead with 90 laps remaining.

Then with 81 laps remaining, Allgaier, who was running third, made a pit stop under green to address a loose left-rear wheel on his No. 7 hellowater Chevrolet Camaro. By then, Custer extended his advantage to two seconds over Mayer followed by Herbst, Nemechek and Hill while Earnhardt Jr., Sammy Smith, Creed, Hemric and Kraus were running in the top 10.

With nearly 65 laps remaining, green flag pit stops commenced as Joe Graf Jr. pitted. Richard Childress Racing’s Hill and Creed would pit under green a few laps later followed by Earnhardt Jr., Herbst, Custer, Mayer and others. As the green flag pit stops dwindled, Custer reassumed the lead with 53 laps remaining.

Four laps later, however, Custer fell off the pace while leading through the frontstretch and pitted after the right-front tire was spotted flat on the No. 00 Haas Automation Ford Mustang. Custer’s late misfortune moved Mayer into the lead while Hill, Nemechek, Herbst and Allgaier followed suit in the top five.

With 37 laps remaining, the caution returned after a wheel was spotted leaning against the outside wall on pit road. The caution occurred a few laps after Allgaier had pitted for his final set of tires. During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Mayer pitted for their final set of tires.

As the race restarted with 30 laps remaining, Mayer retained the lead ahead of Hill, Nemechek and Herbst as the field fanned out and jostled for late positions. Shortly after, the caution returned after Earnhardt Jr., who was battling within the top 10, got loose entering the backstretch, slipped up the track and bumped against his JR Motorsports’ driver Berry, which sent Berry into the outside wall before Berry went up the track in Turns 3 and 4 and scraped the wall amid a flat tire to his No. 8 Tire Pros Chevrolet Camaro.

During the following restart with 23 laps remaining, Mayer cleared Hill entering Turn 2 to retain the lead as the field behind fanned out through the backstretch. Mayer would stabilize his advantage to seven-tenths of a second over Hill as Nemechek, Herbst and Brandon Jones followed suit in the top five with 20 laps remaining.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Mayer extended his advantage to more than a second over Nemechek while Herbst, Hill and Earnhardt Jr. were scored in the top five. Behind, Hemric was in sixth while Brandon Jones, Sammy Smith, Kligerman and Joe Graf Jr. were up in the top 10.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Mayer remained as the leader by more than two-tenths of a second over Herbst. Amid Playoff contender Creed wrecking just past the backstretch, the race remained under green flag conditions. With Herbst unable to narrow the gap, Mayer was able to navigate his No. 1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet Camaro around the Homestead circuit smoothly for a final time as he returned to the frontstretch and claimed his fourth checkered flag of this season and of his career.

With the victory, Mayer, who achieved his first oval-circuit win in the Xfinity Series and came into the event 16 points below the top-four cutline, became the first Playoff contender to secure one of four vacant spots into this year’s Championship 4 round as he will officially contend for his first Xfinity Series championship. Mayer’s victory was also enough for the Chevrolet nameplate to secure this year’s manufacturer’s title and it was the seventh of the season for JR Motorsports.

“That’s unreal. We won on an oval! Whoo!” Mayer exclaimed on USA Network. “I can’t believe it. These guys, the Accelerate Pros Camaro today was just so good. It’s all about putting a full race together and I’m so proud of these guys. They kicked tail on pit road. We made it happen with these [Hendrick Motorsports] engines. Stewart-Haas [Racing] had [the race won] today, that’s for sure. It’s just really cool to be able to beat an amazing organization like that. We got to turn it on a little harder going to Phoenix.”

Herbst, who achieved his first Xfinity victory a week ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, settled in the runner-up spot while Nemechek, Hill and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top five. Behind, Hemric ended up sixth while Kligerman, Brandon Jones, Sammy Smith and Joe Graf Jr. finished in the top 10. Meanwhile, Playoff contenders Custer, Allgaier and Creed, all of whom led a combined 126 laps, ended up 13th, 15th and 26th, respectively.

There were 13 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 33 laps. In addition, 12 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.

Results.

1. Sam Mayer, 46 laps led

2. Riley Herbst

3. John Hunter Nemechek, seven laps led

4. Austin Hill

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

6. Daniel Hemric

7. Parker Kligerman

8. Brandon Jones

9. Sammy Smith

10. Joe Graf Jr.

11. Derek Kraus, 21 laps led, Stage 2 winner

12. Parker Retzlaff

13. Cole Custer, one lap down, 114 laps led, Stage 1 winner

14. Ryan Sieg, one lap down

15. Justin Allgaier, one lap down, eight laps led

16. Kyle Weatherman, one lap down

17. Josh Williams, one lap down

18. Jeffrey Earnhardt, one lap down

19. Brennan Poole, one lap down

20. Jeb Burton, one lap down

21. Jeremy Clements, one lap down

22. Kyle Sieg, one lap down

23. Leland Honeyman, one lap down

24. Ryan Ellis, one lap down

25. Patrick Emerling, two laps down

26. Sheldon Creed, two laps down, four laps led

27. Mason Massey, two laps down

28. Anthony Alfredo, three laps down

29. Blaine Perkins, four laps down

30. Kaz Grala, six laps down

31. Connor Mosack – OUT, Electrical

32. Josh Berry – OUT, Accident

33. Mason Maggio – OUT, Electrical

34. Chandler Smith – OUT, Engine

35. Brett Moffitt – OUT, Accident

36. Dawson Cram – OUT, Accident

37. CJ McLaughlin – OUT, Carburetor

38. Ryan Newman – OUT, Rear gear

*Bold indicates Playoff competitors

Playoff standings

1. Sam Mayer – Advanced

2. John Hunter Nemechek +44

3. Cole Custer +3

4. Austin Hill +3

5. Justin Allgaier -3

6. Sammy Smith -49

7. Chandler Smith -54

8. Sheldon Creed -65

The Round of 8 in the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs is set to conclude next Saturday, October 28, at Martinsville Speedway, which will determine the Championship 4 field. The event’s broadcast is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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