Saturday, June 4, 2022

XFINITY: Incident in traffic hands Sam Mayer first last-place finish at rainy Portland; Yeley earns first Top Ten since 2017

PHOTO: Ben Schneider, @bcschneider53

Sam Mayer picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Pacific Office Automation 147 at the Portland International Raceway when his #1 Accelerate Pros Talent Chevrolet was involved in an accident after 12 of 75 laps.

The finish came in Mayer’s 32nd series start. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 18th for the #1, the 365th from a crash, and the 595th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 73rd for the #1, the 1,291st from a crash, and the 1,842nd for Chevrolet.

Mayer has enjoyed a meteoric rise through NASCAR’s ranks to become one of the most anticipated talents of the current XFINITY Series field. When he was 16, he dominated the K&N Pro Series East, scoring four wins and ranking Top Five in all but one of his starts, beating Chase Cabre for the title. He nearly repeated the feat the following year as a full-timer in ARCA, where he scored five wins in 13 starts, taking 7th in the championship only because he ran part-time. By then, he was also a part-timer in the Truck Series, where in only his 7th start for GMS Racing, he took the checkered flag at Bristol.

Last year, Mayer signed with JR Motorsports, and though he would be upstaged by another meteoric talent in Josh Berry, who shared his #8 Chevrole, he still earned solid finishes in the season’s second half. He finished 9th in his third start at Atlanta, 9th again in his return to Bristol, and ranked 4th at Martinsville. Inheriting the #1 team from a retired Michael Annett, Mayer has now secured his own full-time ride and capitalized on the opportunity. After a difficult first five races, Mayer finished 5th or better in eight of the nine races leading into Portland. Just last week in Charlotte, he tied his career-best 3rd-place run.

On a damp Portland road course, Mayer ranked 25th in practice and at one point spun in Turn 4, suffering slight damage to the nose of his Chevrolet. He managed to recover in qualifying, jumping to 4th with a lap of 1 minute, 16.416 seconds (92.808mph). While he had finished 5th at COTA to start his current top-five streak in 2022, just last year he also had a rough outing on a road course when he nearly finished last at Road America following a crash.

With 38 cars entered for as many spots for the first time in 46 races, no one was sent home, and Jesse Iwuji slotted into the final spot with a lap of just 1 minute, 30.729 seconds (78.167mph), more than 14 seconds off the pole. During his timed lap in Round 1, Iwuji had spun in Turn 11, forcing Josh Berry in the #8 Tire Pros Chevrolet and Mason Filippi in the #91 Chevrolet to drive through the grass to avoid him. Intensifying rain cancelled the second round of qualifying, securing Mayer his 4th-place rank and giving Anthony Alfredo his first career pole in the #23 Dude Wipes Chevrolet.

Multiple rain-inflicted spins in practice and qualifying led to nine drivers dropping to the tail end of the field, including the aforementioned Josh Berry and Mason Filippi. Both were docked for unapproved adjustments along with 10th-place A.J. Allmendinger in the #16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet, 25th-place Myatt Snider in the #31 Tree Top Chevrolet, 30th-place Gray Gaulding in the #6 JT Marine Inc Chevrolet, 27th-place Ryan Sieg in the #39 A-Game Ford, and his new 55-year-old RSS Racing teammate – SCCA competitor and P.E. teacher Darren Dilley in the #38 Willamette Valley Hops Ford, set to start 32nd. Noah Gragson went to a backup car after his #9 Bass Pro Shops TrueTimber BRCC Chevrolet lost control on the main straight, slid into the grass, and destroyed the front splitter. Gragson’s backup turned in the 11th-best time ahead of Josh Williams, whose #78 Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet was to set 31st before he missed driver introductions.

Again running rain tires with even more precipitation falling, even the pace laps proved hazardous. Before the green flag, Allmendinger ran off course between Turns 4 and 5, and returned to the track with thick smears of grass and mud on the nose of his Chevrolet. This forced a pit stop as the green flag dropped. Allmendinger took last place from Josh Williams, who was already 33.204 seconds back of the lead as one of several cars still working their way off the final corner as the leaders piled into the first chicane. There, the leaders also found trouble, including Mayer. As Daniel Hemric challenged Anthony Alfredo for the lead, Alfredo and Austin Hill missed the chicane and had to serve a stop-and-go in the runoff area. This allowed Mayer to climb to 3rd behind Hemric and Sheldon Creed, only to lose control on the approach to the next turn. Contact peeled a piece of his rear bumper from Mayer’s Chevrolet, and though he lost all his track position managed to run without serious damage.

When the first lap was completed, Allmendinger took over the 38th spot 80.113 seconds back of the leader and 40.687 seconds back of 37th-place Josh Williams. During that lap, Allmendinger slipped off the track a second time, but this time without much debris on the grille. On Lap 3, Williams dropped Jesse Iwuji to 37th in the #34 Equity Prime Mortgage Chevrolet, and Allmendinger chopped off eight seconds of his deficit to just 32.686 seconds behind. The gap fell to 11.511 on Lap 4, the 3.333 seconds back on Lap 5, when Iwuji had passed Joe Graf, Jr. Graf, whose #07 BuckedUp Buck Shot Ford lost its unsecured hood in practice, apparently had an incident of his own as he dropped more than 10 seconds back of Iwuji. Thus, by Lap 6, Allmendinger dropped Graf to last. Iwuji then lost ground again, and Graf dropped the #34 back to the 38th spot on Lap 9.

Mayer with the damage that ended his race.
PHOTO: Luis Torres, @TheLTFiles

On Lap 12, Iwuji’s spotter warned him of a slow car in Turn 9, and NASCAR drew the caution. The reason was Mayer, who came to pit road trailing smoke with the nose of his car pushed inward. Replays showed that Mayer was running in traffic when Brandon Jones’ #19 Menards / Patriot Lighting Toyota spun out on the back half of the course. An accordion effect resulted, during which Mayer rear ended one of the cars in front. “Stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Mayer as he prepared to climb from his car. The team reported the oil cooler was busted in the impact, ending their day. Mayer took over last place on Lap 14, then three circuits later was declared out by NASCAR.

Darren Dilley finished 37th, the nose of his #38 shoved in during a pileup that followed a hard Lap 26 crash where Gray Gaulding collided with a spinning Riley Herbst just after the chicane. Gaulding, too was eliminated in the 36th spot with Herbst continuing on until reported track bar issues ended his day at 35 laps. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Jeremy Clements, whose #51 First Pacific Funding Chevrolet was damaged in a separate incident after 44 laps.

After running in last place from the very drop of the green flag, A.J. Allmendinger recovered to take a hard-fought victory, wrestling away the top spot from an impressive Myatt Snider. The Homestead winner put together the best race yet for Jordan Anderson’s XFINITY program, leading twice for 19 laps – second-most behind Ty Gibbs.

The on-again-off-again pattern of rainfall led to a split in strategy during the final stages where some teams elected to run slick tires while others did not. Finding himself on slicks at the right time was J.J. Yeley, who ran as high as 2nd on a late-race restart, where his #66 Minutemen Coffee Company Toyota was alongside the #48 Big Machine Spiked Coolers Chevrolet of a returning Jade Buford. While Buford fell back to 14th after contact from Justin Allgaier caused a fender rub, Yeley only lost spots gradually, ultimately holding off a closing Noah Gragson for the 8th spot. The result is Yeley’s first top-ten finish in a XFINITY race since July 29, 2017 at Iowa, where he ran 6th for TriStar Motorsports.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #1 in a XFINITY Series race since October 3, 2020, when Michael Annett’s #1 Pilot / Flying J Chevrolet was disqualified at Talladega. The number hadn’t finished last in a XFINITY race on a road course since August 11, 2007, when Max Papis lost the engine on Phoenix Racing's #1 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet at Watkins Glen.

38) #1-Sam Mayer / 12 laps / crash
37) #38-Darren Dilley / 25 laps / crash
36) #6-Gray Gaulding / 27 laps / crash
35) #98-Riley Herbst / 35 laps / crash
34) #51-Jeremy Clements / 44 laps / crash

1st) Alpha Prime Racing, JD Motorsports, Mike Harmon Racing (2)
2nd) Big Machine Racing, JR Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Richard Childress Racing, Sam Hunt Racing, SS-Green Light Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


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