Sam Mayer needed to win to advance in the Xfinity Series Playoffs, and he delivered at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval with a dominating performance.
Mayer led 50 laps on the day after starting from the pole. He had entered the Roval with a 34-point deficit to the cutline, with no option but to win as the Round of 12 concluded and four drivers were to be eliminated.
He managed to survive two late restarts as well that bunched up the field and temporarily cost him his lead. But Mayer had so much speed that earlier in the race he’d managed to score stage points for eighth place despite pitting and losing plenty of track position, so he wasn’t worried.
“I knew we had time. Our car was so fast,” Mayer said. “The good lord, he works in mysterious ways, and he put us down. But he also taught me a lesson and brought me back up and we kicked their tails today and I feel it’s just feels so great.”
Saturday’s victory in the Drive for the Cure 250 presented by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina is Mayer’s third career Xfinity Series victory, with all three having come on road courses. It’s also the one that means the most to him.
“I mean, like, we can go on and do great things because of this win,” he explained. “And this obviously is the biggest one of the season.
“We love road courses. I guess I’m Allmendinger 2.0 or something.”
Cole Custer, who ran up front and led a few laps himself, finished second. Custer had already locked himself into the Round of 8 based on strong performances at Bristol at Texas earlier this round, and faced no pressure but to go for the win.
Also needing a win was Josh Berry, but, like his JR Motorsports teammate Mayer, he was in must-win position to advance into the next round. A third-place finish means he did not get the points necessary after disappointing performances in the other races in the round.
“We had an awesome car,” Berry said. “The best car ended up winning, I felt like – Sam was a little bit better than us. Really proud of the effort, brought a really good car and practiced well and qualified well and raced well.”
A power steering issue that plagued Berry throughout the race didn’t make his day any easier, either.
“We developed a little bit of an issue there early on, basically under any sort of load it had no power steering, so on the big track and some of the compressions of the infield section, it just had no power steering and hurt me a little bit,” he explained. “I just got a little sloppy there in the second half of the race and made a couple of mistakes there that took us out of it but we fought back in there.”
Riley Herbst and Kaz Grala, not competing in the postseason, rounded out the top five.
The top-ten order proved the most dramatic. Entering the final lap, Daniel Hemric ran in seventh behind Parker Kligerman and Kaz Grala, with Hemric two points below the cutline as they ran and Kligerman five out. With each point being a position, Hemric tried to get beneath both Grala and Kligerman out of the final corner as the two battled in a three-wide dash for the line but just couldn’t get there in time.
For sixth-place Parker Kligerman, there just wasn’t any more to get those five points. Sam Mayer winning despite entering below the cutline made his situation much harder.
“Just get every spot I could and hope something happened. I didn’t exactly know the situation, I just knew I was ahead of the ten,” Kligerman explained.
“I just knew I had to pass people and I had to try everything I could to get spots, and I feel like we were one of the top three fastest cars here, we just had to take points and that puts you back in the pack – we scored the second-most points, we did everything we should’ve.”
Either way, though, it’s a strong result for Kligerman and his No. 48 Big Machine Racing team. The team offered Kligerman a chance to get back into a full-time ride after years of struggling to find rides and working in the media.
“It’s been a big achievement to be a part of the Playoffs for this race team,” Kligerman said. “We can still finish fifth in points, so that’s a big achievement. I think I can be a better driver in 2024 than I was this year for them, and we can take the top fives and make them top threes and first places, and that’s what we need to go out and contend for the championship.”
Daniel Hemric, failing to get the position at the line, ended up finishing seventh and eliminated. He knew full well what the last corner meant, too.
“Yeah. Kind of saw it playing out in front of me, saw the move the 48 was going to make, and I was in the best position I could be being up there with those guys coming in there,” Hemric said. “I haven’t seen how close it was at the line, but I felt like I gave it the best effort I could to turn back under the 26. Just came up a little short and that’s the way it is.”
“That’s the way it is, we carry on. I put us in a hole for sure there at Texas, and I hate it for these guys, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us. It’s just part of the journey,” he added.
“Looking forward to what’s ahead, what’s ahead for this race team, looking forward for the rest of this season. We did all-but-everything we had to do today.”
Former Xfinity Series champion Hemric will drive for his Kaulig Racing team in the Cup Series next season.
John Hunter Nemechek came in with a win and Austin Hill carried a big points margin in, and both advanced to the Round of 8 easily with an eighth- and a ninth-place finish respectively.
Hill’s teammate Sheldon Creed, who finished tenth, was in much less comfortable position, though. He was the driver who would’ve lost out if Hemric’s move had paid off at the line.
“I don’t know if I was nervous but it certainly wasn’t fun,” Creed admitted of his points calculations. “I wasn’t kind of judging off what they did, if I needed to make some kind of hail-Mary move on the 20 and 21.
“But just kind of stumbled our way through the first round to make it, so really just fortunate that we’ve have the luck we did all the times we did. At the end of the day, just need to bring faster race cars,” he said.
Still, Creed is looking forward to the next round as a chance to show the speed of his Richard Childress Racing car.
“Just going to have to win Vegas or Homestead, I have those two circled. We can’t stumble our way through this next one, that’s for sure,” he acknowledged.
Justin Allgaier was always going to advance thanks to his win at Bristol, but he would have liked another to cap off the Round of 12 and carry extra Playoff points forward.
He looked to be in position, too. A bold call to pit for tires under green for new tires with twelve laps to go paid off with a debris caution almost immediately that put Allgaier on the front row with new tires.
It didn’t work out, though, as Jeb Burton spun his tires on the inside on the restart, overshot the first corner, and piled into Allgaier. That sent Allgaier hard into the barriers, ending the day for his No. 7 JR Motorsports team.
Jeb Burton, a Playoff contender himself, was eliminated at the end of the day, but was mostly just sorry for the contact that took out a potential winner.
It was the culmination of a bad day for Burton, who sped on pit road early, forcing him to claw through the field and take strategy calls like staying out on old tires to get to the front.
“t the end there, just spun my tires a little bit too much compared to those guys and then I was just going faster into [Turn] 1 than I had been all weekend and just locked the front tires up and just wasn’t going to make the corner. And I just hate that the 7 car was there to get into my mistake and my wreck. I respect Justin a tremendous amount and I hate it for JR Motorsports,” Burton said.
Doesn’t make it any better, but I’ll definitely reach out to him,” he added. “Total screw-up on my part, I just wish he hadn’t gotten caught up in my wreck. Totally my fault.”
Still, making the Playoffs and competing with the top teams is a good sign for Burton’s Jordan Anderson Racing team.
“I think we’re getting better and better. I think we do a lot with a little,” Burton pointed out. “Proud of the guys, proud of the team.”
The Xfinity Series returns at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the opening race of the three-race Round of 8 on Saturday, October 14th at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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