Sam Mayer breaks the barrier at Homestead-Miami to lock into Xfinity Championship 4

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 21: Sam Mayer, driver of the #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Contender Boats 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 21, 2023 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Sam Mayer has had a breakthrough year this season in the Xfinity Series, but one thing that’s eluded him has been an oval win. He won three times on road courses to secure a spot in the Playoffs and help himself advance, but not an oval.

Until now. Mayer broke through at Homestead-Miami and showed his speed, leading 46 of the 200 laps.

“It’s unreal. We won on an oval! I can’t believe it,” an ecstatic Mayer said after stepping out of his car.

“These guys… the Accelerate Hugs Camaro was just so good,” he added. “It’s all about putting a full race together. I’m so proud of these guys, we kicked tail on pit road.”

Even more than achieving a goal, the win locks Mayer into the all-important Championship 4 race at Phoenix, giving him the chance to fight for a season title in the winner-take-all race in just his second full-time Xfinity Series season. Being the first driver to lock in his spot, after non-Playoff driver Riley Herbst took the win last week, is a big advantage.

“I mean, I’ve never experienced that before, so it’ll be new to me too, but I think it’ll help us a lot because obviously we’re going to do our best to go out there and keep our momentum going at Martinsville,” Mayer said.

But,” he added, “it’s like tonight I’m watching the Phoenix race. My mindset is already there trying to get better at that racetrack and we’ll take a little break from it and go to Martinsville, so it’s just it allows you to focus on something greater.”

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 21: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Ford, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Xfinity Series Contender Boats 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 21, 2023 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

The driver who didn’t manage to put a full race together is Cole Custer. He dominated most of the race, leading 114 laps after starting on the pole and winning the first stage. His hopes of winning were dashed by a flat tire after hitting the wall in the final stage that forced him down pit road, where he picked up a penalty for too many crewmembers over the wall.

That means the dominant driver actually lost out with regard to the points standings: Custer entered Miami 15 points above the cutline, and leaves just three to the good, making Martinsville a lot more of a challenge next week.

“It’s hard to swallow,” Custer admitted, “and our guys did such a good job, they deserve the win today. I just got in a little too deep and hit the fence.”

Custer’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate was the class of the field too. Riley Herbst was also there at the finish and was nearly able to get the win that fell out of his teammate’s hands.

Herbst was gaining on Sam Mayer in the closing laps, getting right up to his bumper through the last set of corners, but couldn’t ultimately get around for what would have been his second win in a row after his first-ever Xfinity Series win last week at Vegas.

“I don’t know. That’s a lot of hypotheticals,” Herbst said about whether he would have gotten by Mayer with a few extra laps.

“Really bummed out for Cole. He definitely was the class of the field like we were last week. So hopefully we can continue this SHR dominance and pick up a few more checkered flags at Martinsville and Phoenix,” he concluded.

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 21: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 hellowater Chevrolet, and John Hunter Nemechek, driver of the #20 Pye Barker Fire & Safety Toyota, race during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Contender Boats 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 21, 2023 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

John Hunter Nemechek finished a strong third, cementing his comfortable position. He enters Martinsville 44 points above the cutline, all-but locked into the next round ahead of the treacherous short track.

“We had a really fast Toyota GR Supra,” Nemechek said. “Overall, solid day for us. We had a solid points day.

“With the 1 winning, it kind of took away our chance to lock in on points,” he explained. “Still a solid cushion behind us and looking forward to going to Martinsville. We won there earlier this year and hopefully we can go there and just have a solid day. Doesn’t matter if we win, as long as we lock into Phoenix, that’s all that matters.

Playoff contender Austin Hill finished fourth. He, too, lost some of the points gap he carried into Homestead-Miami, and enters Martinsville three points to the good.

Rounding out the top five was Dale Earnhardt, Jr, making his second Xfinity Series start of the season driving a fifth entry for his own team. A top five, including driving through the field, made the effort a big success.

“The car was not doing what I wanted it to do, so we worked on it and I sent in the wrong way in the first stage,” he explained. “Once we got that going and the guys figured out what we needed to do with the car, it ran better and we ran good enough to run fifth.”

It wasn’t all good for Earnhardt, though. He collided with the No. 8 of Josh Berry midway through the race on a restart after getting loose, sending Berry into the wall. The incident caused enough damage to force Berry to retire from the race.

“The Josh Berry deal, man, I didn’t know he was out there,” Earnhardt admitted. “My spotter was saying all the right things but what I was thinking was something different. So I’ll put that on me. I got a little loose but I corrected it up the track like there was nobody there.”

“Sorry about that,” he concluded. “Not the way I want to send Josh off. I want to send him off with a win.”

Berry will be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Cup Series next season, replacing the retiring Kevin Harvick.

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 21: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Contender Boats 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 21, 2023 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Daniel Hemric, Parker Kligerman, Brandon Jones, Sammy Smith, and Joe Graf Jr. all earned top-ten finishes.

Sammy Smith leaves firmly in must-win position, 49 points below the cutline. In similar position behind him are Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed, below by 54 and 65 points respectively.

Both had contact that hurt their day: Smith was spun after Brandon Jones moved down the track into Smith’s Kaulig Racing teammate Derek Kraus while racing four wide, sending Smith spinning out; Sheldon Creed failed to finish after being sent into the wall fairly hard in the final laps off the bumper of another car.

Chandler Smith finished 34th after the incident while Creed was scored 26th.

Indeed, the only driver below the cutline in points range heading into Martinsville is Justin Allgaier, who is three points behind. That’s a big fall, the result of a 15th-place finish: he entered 21 points to the good. He had a suspected loose wheel midway through the race, forcing him to pit, where he turned out to be correct. He went a lap down during that process.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns for the final race of the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, October 28th for an elimination round to set the Championship 4 field.


Owen Johnson