2022 NXS Playoff Preview: Playoffs Offer Mayer, No. 1 Team Chance to Shine

Ron Lemasters | 9/22/2022

Accelerate Professional Talent Solutions Huck's News Sam Mayer

In his first full-time season, Sam Mayer enters the playoffs with nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes on the year.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 22, 2022) -- In his first full season as a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, Sam Mayer will compete for the series championship alongside 11 other drivers - including all three of his JR Motorsports teammates.

That's a big chance for the talented young driver to take the next step up the ladder, going toe-to-toe with the best the NXS has to offer for a chance at race wins and a championship at the end. He and crew chief Taylor Moyer, along with the rest of the No. 1 team at JRM, will start the battle for the title from ninth place in points, tied with Jeremy Clements for the last spot in the Round of 8. Clements, who had an appeal upheld following a penalty after winning at Daytona, gets the eighth position by virtue of that reclaimed victory.

Mayer, in his first full season as an NXS driver, earned nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races, leading 50 laps and completing 95.4 percent of all laps run. He also won a pair of stages and picked up two playoff points. The 19-year-old clinched his berth in the postseason a race early at Kansas, making him a playoff driver in his first season of eligibility.

"It's my first playoff appearance in the first opportunity I had to be a playoff driver, so I'm one-for-one with that so far," Mayer said with a smile. "That's pretty cool. Throughout the year, we've had a lot of ups and downs, especially over the last six or seven weeks. We're looking forward to turning that around and trying to get that momentum back."

The final race of the regular season, at Bristol Motor Speedway, gave Mayer a chance to race free and easy. It's one of his better tracks, as he's won a pair of ARCA races and a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on the tight little oval, and he didn't have to worry about making it into the playoffs.

"Locking in a race early, before the cutoff race at Bristol, definitely gave us a lot of confidence going in, even though Bristol is a really good track for me," he said. "We performed really well last year, ran up front pretty much all day, and I had a lot of excitement when we got there last week. I think that showed with a fourth-place finish. We were really fast most of the night, too. Our only goal was to win at Bristol for the extra playoff points."

Staying in the top eight is the goal for Mayer, Moyer and the rest of the No. 1 team, and those extra playoff points would have helped him in that regard. Nonetheless, it's very doable to make the Round of 8, Moyer said.

"You're just going to have to flat-out execute," Moyer said of the first round. "You're going to have to finish stages and races where the speed of your race car is. That means you can't go out there with a fifth-place race car and finish 15th. If you can get through the first round with a superspeedway in there…if you can put together solid top-fives in all stages and in all race finishes, you should be solidly in there.

"There can only be three winners (in the Round of 12), three separate winners, in there and that leaves five open spots. Then, with the bonus points gap that the 9 (JRM teammate Noah Gragson) and the 54 and those guys have, you're going to have to win in the Round of 8, from our perspective. With our points differential, we're going to have to win."

Mayer is fully on board with Moyer's strategy.

"I think we have a big head of steam and some momentum heading into the playoffs based on that run at Bristol," Mayer said. "I just need to have a clean Round of 12, and the goal is to get into the Round of 8 without wrecking or getting in any incidents. I need to get stage points, too. Texas is a good place for us. I ran well in the fall last year and again this spring, so it's one of those consistent tracks for me so far. I'm looking forward to going there. If we have a really good weekend at Texas with a lot of points and something happens to some of the other drivers, we can put ourselves into a really good spot going to Talladega."

Talladega is the first of two wild-card races in the opening round, and the Charlotte Roval is the kicker.

"Talladega is a crapshoot," Mayer said. "If we get through Texas in good shape, I can just hang out at Talladega and get stage points, finish and get good points. That leads us to the Roval, which is another one of those really oddball races."

Moyer noted that his young driver has quite a road-racing background in Trans-Am and other disciplines, and also that his No. 1 team ran well at Texas in the spring (finished third). The superspeedway program at JRM has been stout for many years.

What he's focused on is maximizing the points from each of those races.

"My approach doesn't change," Moyer said. "I'm not one of those guys who thinks he should give 90 percent in the regular-season and 110 in the Playoffs. I think you should be giving effort, staying the course and build out a system and then work your system. There will be a little more care and thought given to how you approach each of those races in terms of maximizing points. You have to be aware of who you're racing around and their point situations, and there's a lot of situational awareness on my part as we go into some of that stuff."

Moyer, who worked with Mayer over the second half of 2021, has recognized that his young charge has put a lot of work into his craft over the last 12 months.

"We have worked on race-car maturity a lot this year, and that's been a focus even last year, working on race craft or whatever you want to call it," Moyer said of his driver. "This goes hand-in-hand with situational awareness in the playoffs. That's not something you can necessarily force on someone; you have to give him the tools to learn and let them learn. People learn at different rates. When he's had his flashes, it's been him coupling his natural ability with some real race-craft."

For his part, Mayer understands that the Round of 8 is where this season will ultimately be judged, and he is aware of the pressure to succeed.

The confidence I had last year kind of overshadowed the actual success we had," he said. "I took a step back to realize what we have to work with this year, and that kind of put me in a better spot to have better finishes and more consistency. We locked ourselves into the playoffs without a win, but we're going to have to win at least one this year to make it to the Championship 4 and to win it.

"It's going to be one of those things where you're really going to have to step it up because you know all the other drivers are going to."



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