Playoff Picture: Mayer, Lindley Seek Consistency in Playoff Debut

Ron Lemasters | 9/13/2023

News

Fresh off a contract extension, Sam Mayer heads into the playoffs for the second time in his career.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 13, 2023) – Sam Mayer and Mardy Lindley will enter the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with confidence, but both men recognize the need to return to a more even keel in terms of results.

One sure way to get the mojo flowing, so to speak, is to roll into Bristol Motor Speedway for the opener on Friday night. Lindley and Mayer have won five races together on the .533-mile concrete oval in feeder-system events.

"I don't have it circled on the calendar but it is definitely an opportunity," Lindley said in the runup to the playoff opener. "I have won five races there with Sam in the past and won a bunch of races there with different drivers, including a race with Martin Truex Jr. when it had dirt on it. It's a good race track for me, always had good luck there and we need to capitalize on that this weekend."

The biggest thing about Friday night's race, according to Lindley, is getting back into the groove that produced victories at both Road America and Watkins Glen, nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in the first 26 races.

"We had a really good month of August, but we have to get back to it," Lindley said. "We've had three bad races here. Daytona was 50-50 and Darlington was kind of put on us with radio issues and some other stuff. This past week we got caught up in someone else's bad luck with a really fast No. 1 Chevrolet.

"It could have been another good day, and we need to get the momentum and consistency going the way they were in August. We need to take the finishes we deserve. It's important to advance and it's better to win, because you are guaranteed in. Not getting greedy and getting the finish we deserve could advance us on to the next round."

That consistency in large part comes from building the cars in the JRM shops. That's half the battle for Lindley.

"We have to do a really good job here at the shop to give him good cars and Sam has to drive really smart races," he said of the next seven races. "People are going to drive really, really hard and he can't get baited into doing something stupid, which is easy to do. We have to put it together. I don't feel like we're a favorite by any means, but there's a chance we can make that final four and you never know what can happen at that point.

"You can get hooked up and have some luck go your way and you just never know. We're going in as the fifth seed and we definitely have room to go backwards, but there's also a lot of room to go forward, and that's our goal."

As for who the favorites are in the race for the series championship, Lindley had some ideas that included the other three cars in the building.

"The Gibbs guys are tough, the 00 (Cole Custer) is tough, the RCR guys…it's the same bunch," he said. "You have to pick them out when you go race and beat them. Justin (Allgaier) has been hot and cold, the 9 (Brandon Jones) just got a good finish this weekend and that might crank them up for the rest of the season. The 8 (Josh Berry) is not far down the road from being able to win some races. The whole organization is ready for this. Not only do we as the No. 1 car need to run good, but the rest of our cars do as well."

With just one weekend off the rest of the way, all the teams in the series are feeling the heat of a long season, and Lindley is cognizant of that fact.

"It's the time of year when we're at 12 straight races and everyone is a little worn down," he said. "I think as a whole, the organization, the shop guys have got us prepared and everything is really good and really organized. We're able to sit here and work on speed and handling instead of putting them together. It's nice.

"I'm not sure I'm even going to welcome the off-weekend, because you get on a roll and you don't want to stop. I want to get back on that roll. I feel pretty good about it, here and Texas. You can't have the dumb luck that we had at Kansas."

Mayer has shown impressive speed in virtually every class he's driven, but he is still just 20 years old. Confidence is not a problem. Lindley has a formula to manage his driver's consistency and aggression.

"We work hard with him every week, and seeing him build that consistency and finally get that first win really just gave him a kind of confidence of knowing he can do it," Lindley said. "I don't feel like we've won a race the way I want to win a race yet. We haven't dominated a race and got the checkered flag, but that is coming. He has the talent to do it, but it's hard to win these races. You have to be really smart. There are a lot of smart drivers who are really calculating and up on their game right now. You have to match them to beat them."

From his first half-season in 2021 to last year's full season, Mayer has made leaps and bounds in that regard, Lindley said.

"With Sam, it's a steady progression. As long as we can build on the momentum we had and keep getting better, I felt pretty confident leaving the shop we were a top-five car. Once you start bringing the top fives in, the wins are around the corner and we've seen them. We've been in the right place at the right time to capitalize on them. I'm really bummed about Kansas, because I felt we might have had the best race car of the season this past weekend and didn't get to show it off."

It's not just the driver and crew chief feeling the effects of the long season. Crews certainly fall into that category, but Lindley said his No. 1 team is ready for the grind.

"Pat (Martin, car chief and mechanic) is here every day at 5:30 a.m. and I am on the road in about that time, so we have a conversation every day," Lindley said. "The engineers are ready to go. We're ready to go. After having a weekend like we had at Kansas, race day can't get here quick enough."

In addition to Martin, Gregg Buchanan is the underneath mechanic, the race engineer is Aedan McHugh, Josh Lewis is the second engineer in charge of shocks and tires and hauler driver Jeff Miles is a critical component of the race weekend.

The lone road course in the playoffs is the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and given the fact that both of Mayer's wins this year have come on the twisty bits, that's unfortunate.

"Road courses are definitely one of Sam's strong suits," Lindley said. "We struggled at Sonoma and finished 10th, and we really went to work after that. Portland was a good one for us and COTA was going to be good but we got caught up in some late wrecks and he had to charge back. Indy was really good, solid day, and of course Road America and Watkins Glen were great."

As with every race schedule, there are tracks that no one wants to see when the championship is on the line. Lindley has been to all of them, and he has a few thoughts on where some pitfalls might lie in wait.

"We had one of the fastest cars at Phoenix, but one of the only things that bothers me there is the restarts," he said. "You can advance big or you can lose big. They fan out so wide getting into Turn 1 and if you're checked up or in the wrong lane you can really bleed track position. If we're in it when we get there, the restarts would be on of my biggest concerns, because you can get wrecked."

No restrictor-plate tracks loom in the final seven races, but there is another one that has potential to derail a championship bid.

"There's no Talladega, so that is good, but there is a Martinsville, which is kind of the small Talladega," Lindley said. "We ran OK there, qualified fifth and spent a long time in the top 10. It was my first time there with these cars and I feel like we can be way better going back.

"Short tracks is where I come from, and I'm not going to say I understand them more than I do the rest of them. You can't get knocked out of the way and you have to have luck on your side. This past weekend at Kansas, we got wrecked. It wasn't intentional. Guy bounces off the wall and turns you around and you get clobbered. It's the same thing at Martinsville. You can get wiped out on a restart.

"You have to have luck on your side and fast race cars. Pit stops have to be solid, and so do restarts. If you have decent pit stops and a fast race car, you're going to go places."

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • March 2 05:00 PM ET
    The LiUNA!Las Vegas Motor Speedway
  • March 9 04:30 PM ET
    NXS Race at PhoenixPhoenix Raceway
  • March 23 05:00 PM ET
    NASCAR Xfinity 250Circuit of the Americas
  • March 30 01:30 PM ET
    ToyotaCare 250Richmond Raceway
  • April 6 07:30 PM ET
    NXS Spring Race at MartinsvilleMartinsville Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After Dead On Tools 250

Martinsville Speedway | 10/28/2023
Results are not available.