One of the most highly touted young drivers in quite some time will make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut the day after his 18th birthday this Sunday when he takes the green flag in the Pocono Green 225 at the Pocono Raceway. Sam Mayer will be driving the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports at the triangle-shaped track located in eastern Pennsylvania.
The Franklin, Wisconsin native was the youngest NASCAR sanctioned champion ever when he earned the title on the NASCAR K&N East Series back in 2019 at the age of 16. He was the winner of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race last September at the Bristol Motor Speedway as well as having earned five ARCA Menards Series events out of his 13 starts on that tour. The young driver’s wins in both the NASCAR Trucks Series and the ARCA Menards Series came for GMS Racing.
Despite the driver’s credentials, he is both excited and nervous for this opportunity with a new team in a new series. Adding to those emotions is the fact that this is one of the weekends in which NASCAR will not be allowing practice sessions or qualifying for either of its top-three divisions.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity to hop in one of these things for the first time,” Mayer said in a recent NASCAR media availability. “I’m a little bit nervous because it’s obviously the first time and I don’t get any practice or qualifying or anything like that.”
However, Mayer has some experience and some positive thoughts going into the weekend having scored a third place result on the oddly shaped 2.5-mile track in an ARCA race last season. The young driver will be making his first ARCA start of 2021 on the Friday preceding his Xfinity debut in the Bret Holmes Racing No. 23 Chevrolet.
“It’s definitely going to be pretty weird just hopping in one of these things but the good thing is I have the ARCA race for a little bit of practice before that on Friday so I’ll at least know the track a little bit,” Mayer pointed out. “We’ll probably be starting somewhere close to 20th on the Xfinity side so it’s going to be a little bit tough to figure it out right then and there but I think we’ll be pretty good.”
Unfortunately, Mayer’s ARCA effort on Friday evening at Pocono ended early with mechanical troubles brought on when his car collected a piece of debris from another machine.
Getting seat time is going to be key for the driver of the No. 8 Xfinity car. Not only does Mayer want to get a feel for this type of car but he wants to build a relationship with crew chief Taylor Moyer and the rest of the JRM team he will be working with throughout the season.
He will be driving for the same team that prepared cars for Josh Berry during the first half of the campaign. During Berry’s tenure, a win was earned at Martinsville as well as second-place finishes at Darlington and Dover. As a result, expectations will be high even with an inexperienced driver.
“Going out there and wrecking on the first lap would obviously look really bad so we don’t plan on doing that,” Mayer said. “Just going out there and running all the laps, my expectations are kind of right on par with what I expect from myself, in the driver’s seat anyway. I feel like I’m a top-10 driver, at least, just to start off. I think if we can go out there, run all the laps, see what we have, obviously the car’s going to be really good. Taylor is a heck of a crew chief, he obviously did Josh really well this year giving him good finishes, good strategy and all that. He definitely knows what he’s doing on the box so I’ve just got to do my part and go out there and drive it, run every lap and see how it ends.”
Switching from the ARCA car to the Xfinity will not be a significant issue for the young but experienced driver.
“I’ve had the opportunities to run multiple different vehicles on the same night, like last year at Bristol when I won the truck race, I ran the ARCA race right after that,” Mayer recalled. “Those are pretty close to being the same but they’re still a little bit different. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to hop in car then hop in another and kind of decipher the differences between them so I learned that at a really young age. That’s going to help me a lot for this weekend but the ARCA car has a lot more downforce than the Xfinity car, obviously. They’re definitely going to be pretty different, but at least I’ll know the track.”
Having been out of the driver’s seat during the season’s first half, what has Mayer done to get ready for this race and the remainder of the season?
“I’ve watched every single Xfinity race there was this year to watch,” he declared. “I definitely know how the crew kind of goes at it at the race track. I definitely have done my research and done my learning for it getting ready for this. But yeah, sitting out the last 15 races sucked because I’ve been really jealous of everyone else running because I want to get in it so bad.”
While he may be nervous about entering a race with a new team in a new series with no practice, Mayer says there is only one way to handle this situation.
“You’ve just got to go out and do it,” he insisted. “There’s no better way of learning how to do something without actually doing it. I’m just going to go out there and do the best I can. Obviously running all the laps is my main priority. That’s going to help me learn the car a lot better. They’re a lot different from the ARCA car, there’s a lot more in-car adjustments that I can do with the brake bias and stuff like that so there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve there but I’m really excited for it and it’s going to be a great opportunity for me to prove myself.”
So what are the expectations for Sunday?
“I expect to run in the top-10 by the end of the day.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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