Sam Mayer took a dramatic double overtime victory in Saturday’s Road America 180 at the iconic Elkhart Lake, Wisc. road course – the 21-year old hometown favorite claiming his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at his home race track; rolling into victory lane, climbing onto his driver’s side window and pulling apart his drivers suit like Superman to a happy and familiar crowd.
The JR Motorsports driver was certainly super in the closing laps on Saturday.
Mayer’s win in the No. 1 JRM Chevrolet makes him the 14th different driver to take the trophy at Road America in as many NASCAR Xfinity Series races there. He is the sixth different driver to earn his first career win at the 4.048-mile road course and the fourth different driver to claim his first series trophy in 2023.
“It was just about getting track position,’’ a grinning Mayer said of the frantic second overtime start that featured door-to-door racing among the top four cars and multiple leaders on a single lap before Mayer emerged out front and was able to drive away to a .368-second win over Parker Kligerman that has landed him an automatic position in the 2023 Playoffs.
“We got it there at the end, I lost it for a second and then all hell broke loose there at the end and we ended up on top,’’ Mayer continued. “This team, it’s so special to get that first win, that monkey off your back. It feels so good. I felt it all day. I felt like if I can do this one, I can do anything and we came here today and did that.
“It’s so cool to get it done,’’ the Franklin, Wisc. native added with a smile.
Four of the top-five drivers on the final overtime restart had never hoisted a series trophy before and pursued then-race leader Justin Allgaier with all the zeal and motivation that you would expect of the situation. Allgaier, Mayer’s JR Motorsports teammate, led a dominating 42 of the 49 laps on the day and swept both stage wins.
But not too-surprisingly that last restart resulted in a manic push among those drivers racing for that coveted first trophy. The racing was three-wide, four-wide, high energy, back-and-forth with so much on the line.
“Second’s not fun,’’ said Kligerman, the driver of the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet who is just on the outside of the playoff bubble, now 22 points behind Sheldon Creed for that 12th and final transfer points position with six regular season races remaining.
“When I got the lead, I just played it a little safer than I should have, I didn’t think the 1 (Mayer) would get to me like that. Then I tried to get to him and just couldn’t get to him.
“But I know here in Wisconsin that’s huge for him and his family,’’ he added. “And our day is coming.’’
Last week’s race winner, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill rallied for a third-place finish after a busy day navigating dicey action mid-pack. And former open-wheel standout Sage Karam, finished fourth in the No. 24 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota.
“It was a great race all around,’’ said Karam, who earned his first career Top-5 in his seventh start of the season. “The last restart was very aggressive. I just had to get to the lead and had a good move on Allgaier, it was really aggressive and got three-wide.
“I can’t thank Sam Hunt Racing enough.”
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst turned in arguably the most persevering performances of the day, finishing fifth in the No. 98 SHR Ford after being collected in multiple incidents throughout the day.
Another of Mayer’s JR Motorsports teammate, Josh Berry rallied to a sixth place finish with Kaz Grala, Josh Bilicki, polesitter A.J. Allmendinger and JRM driver Brandon Jones rounding out the Top-10.
Allmendinger won the pole position and as one of the sports’s all-time best road course racers – even opting to have Derek Kraus qualify his NASCAR Cup Series car at Richmond, Va. so that he could compete on the iconic Wisconsin track Saturday. But Allmendinger struggled from nearly the drop of the green flag. Allgaier passed him for the lead six laps into the race and he was never able to challenge for the top spot with issues essentially all day.
Allmendiger’s Kaulig Racing teammate Chandler Smith also had a rough day. The Xfinity Series rookie - last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion - was travelling at high speed on a straightaway headed to Turn 1 when his car suffered a massive brake rotor failure. Fortunately the young driver smartly turned the car to the left immediately after hearing parts break and was able to slow it down against a side retaining wall instead of going full-speed head-on into the Turn 1 run off area. He was fine afterward, grateful for the solid construction of the cars.
“I was definitely having some brake fade throughout the run, but I didn’t think I was abusing them by any means to make them fail,’’ Smith said. “I was going up the hill on the front straight and I heard something snap and I felt something come off the car and the whole front nose just dropped and when that happened, I was like, ‘what in the world was was that.’
“I went to pump the brakes but there was nothing there,’’ he added, “I was just trying to scrub speed at that point.’’
That was certainly part of a dramatic Saturday afternoon with incidents involving several of Playoff drivers – and several close to the Playoff cutoff.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s John Hunter Nemechek, who was leading the championship at the drop of the green flag was not at the wave of the checkered flag. He took a wild ride off track with 14 laps remaining. His No. 20 JGR Toyota suffered enough damage going off-track in T13 he had to retire landing Nemechek only his second DNF of the season and costing him those valuable points in the standings.
Interviewed afterward, Nemechek was clearly frustrated, “Who needs enemies when you have teammates.’’
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to competition next Saturday in the Cabo Wabo 250 at Michigan International Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). JGR’s Ty Gibbs won the race last year.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race - Road America 180
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Saturday, July 29, 2023
1. (5) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, 49.
2. (17) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 49.
3. (14) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 49.
4. (6) Sage Karam, Toyota, 49.
5. (4) Riley Herbst, Ford, 49.
6. (13) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 49.
7. (9) Kaz Grala, Toyota, 49.
8. (11) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 49.
9. (1) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 49.
10. (33) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 49.
11. (32) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 49.
12. (19) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 49.
13. (34) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 49.
14. (20) Parker Retzlaff #, Chevrolet, 49.
15. (26) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 49.
16. (23) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 49.
17. (25) Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, 49.
18. (3) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 49.
19. (21) Brad Perez, Chevrolet, 49.
20. (38) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 49.
21. (18) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 49.
22. (29) Patrick Emerling, Chevrolet, 49.
23. (35) Joe Graf Jr., Ford, 49.
24. (28) Stanton Barrett, Toyota, 49.
25. (30) Dexter Stacey, Toyota, 49.
26. (12) Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, 49.
27. (31) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 49.
28. (22) Leland Honeyman, Chevrolet, Transmission, 45.
29. (7) Connor Mosack, Toyota, Rear Gear, 44.
30. (2) Cole Custer, Ford, Accident, 41.
31. (10) Sammy Smith #, Toyota, Accident, 41.
32. (27) Kyle Sieg, Ford, Brakes, 39.
33. (37) Alex Labbe, Ford, Accident, 38.
34. (8) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, Accident, 31.
35. (36) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, Accident, 25.
36. (15) Brett Moffitt, Ford, Hub, 23.
37. (16) Chandler Smith #, Chevrolet, Accident, 20.
38. (24) Katherine Legge, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 9.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 65.265 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 2 Mins, 21 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.368 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 15 laps.
Lead Changes: 2 among 3 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Allmendinger(i) 1-5;J. Allgaier 6-47;S. Mayer 48-49.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Justin Allgaier 1 time for 42 laps; AJ Allmendinger(i) 1 time for 5 laps; Sam Mayer 1 time for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 7,00,10,20,24,98,26,21,1,18
Stage #2 Top Ten: 7,00,24,10,1,26,8,48,18,91