Logan Riely | Getty Images
Logan Riely | Getty Images

JRM’s Gragson, Mayer surge into Dash 4 Cash program, join Allmendinger, Hill in opening field

AUSTIN, Texas — The first Dash 4 Cash field on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule is set, and it has a familiar feel to it — mainly since the team that made a clean sweep of the four-race bonus program last year is positioned for another strong opening bid.

JR Motorsports teammates Noah Gragson and Sam Mayer finished fourth and fifth, respectively, Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas, joining race-winner AJ Allmendinger and runner-up Austin Hill in the four-driver field for next weekend’s Dash 4 Cash opener at Richmond Raceway. Saturday’s Pit Boss 250 served as a qualifier for the annual incentive program, and that quartet made up the top finishers among eligible Xfinity Series regulars. (Cup Series regular Cole Custer was third.)

RELATED: Official results | Dash 4 Cash overview

Gragson claimed the $100,000 bonus three times last year, and JRM teammate Josh Berry netted the other. Gragson enters Richmond as the series points leader, with an unmatched five top-five results in six races this season.

“I think today, this is one of my I guess worst road courses, and we put in a lot of hard work over the wintertime and this weekend, trying to be better and felt like we executed well as a team and got a lot of momentum with just the start of this year,” Gragson said. “We’re just going to try to keep going. We’ve had success at Richmond and Martinsville, the two Dash 4 Cash races up first, and hopefully we can go have a solid day next weekend.”

Allmendinger was dominant in leading 27 of 46 laps, and Hill also had a wide gap over his nearest pursuers at the end. The JRM duo, however, had a more adventurous route to those prized spots in the running for the Richmond payday. Gragson fought through illness — ” definitely didn’t feel up to par, but never quit” — and drove on after an unfortunate bump-up with teammate Justin Allgaier, who limped to 33rd place after battling transmission woes.

“It’s not intentional by any means,” Gragson explained post-race. “I hate it for those guys, but you know, I saw a hole and I was there, and he was going for the same spot, trying to cross whoever it was over and just got collected together. You don’t want to get into teammates, definitely not intentional and hate it for them, but we’ll keep our heads up on the 9 team and keep working hard.”

Mayer — in his first full Xfinity Series season — made the most of his first opportunity at Dash 4 Cash eligibility, converting a last-minute move to get into the Richmond field. He tracked down and bypassed Myatt Snider after a hard-fought contest for fifth in the final lap.

“I was really determined to get that fifth place because I wanted another top five on my resume,” said Mayer, whose only other Xfinity top five was a fourth at Martinsville last fall. “I had to run the 31 (Snider) down, and we battled for like the last third of a lap, side by side pretty much the whole time. It was actually pretty cool, it was fun racing hard, racing clean, we’re still cool obviously. I got into him a little bit in the last corner and just shoved him up a little bit to get that run. But it was good, hard racing. Obviously, I wanted that top five, and I’ll do anything to take it.”

The effort marked a bright spot in what’s been a trying season for the 18-year-old driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet. Aside from a solid sixth-place run last month at Auto Club Speedway, Mayer’s other four finishes had fallen outside the top 20. Saturday’s outcome provided him with both a four-position rise to ninth in the Xfinity standings and a much-needed morale boost.

“The look on my face can say it all really,” said a beaming Mayer from pit road. “We were in such a hole going into this one, and not by anything we did on our fault. It’s just things happen in racing and you can’t do anything about it. We were in a pretty deep hole, but we did a really good job of digging out of it today, and obviously we have a lot more digging to do, but this is a fantastic start.”