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February 18, 2023

JR Motorsports’ strength in numbers fades in Daytona overtime

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted about the queasy feeling he had as Saturday evening’s NASCAR Xfinity Series opener headed into its final stage. Three of his four cars had spent time leading on Daytona International Speedway’s high banks, and the lot of them were squarely in the top five and in contention for victory as the laps ticked away.

The nausea turned out to be a fairly accurate predictor of the bedlam that ended Saturday’s Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300.

The JR Motorsports quartet of Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Brandon Jones all sat lined up second through fifth in that order in the closing laps behind Austin Hill’s No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, but none could mount a united charge to overtake it — each with results that varied on the disappointment scale and with questions about the timing of their late-race bid for the win.

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When overtime came, the list of JRM hopefuls had been trimmed to two who each seemed to have an edge against Hill — Allgaier, who led at the white flag, and Mayer, who avoided his teammate’s block and zipped by on the high side through Turns 1 and 2. The two nearly touched but a tight squeeze with Hill turned Mayer’s No. 1 Camaro into the outside wall, where it made contact and flipped, throwing sparks as it skidded on the backstretch asphalt. He was checked at the infield care center and unhurt, just missing out on his first Xfinity Series victory.

“That really sucks. I mean, I’m more emotionally drained because I was so close yet again,” Mayer told after returning to the garage area with a 27th-place finish, last among the JRM drivers. “It’s just like, you can taste it, you can see it, you can feel it, and then all of a sudden, you’re feeling something completely different that ain’t that good. But I mean, our team, I’m super proud of everything that we put together today. I mean, we’re hauling the mail, we were able to control the race for a little bit and experience that.”

Allgaier wound up keeping his car straight after his closely contested battle with Mayer, placing third behind Hill and runner-up John Hunter Nemechek. As he took the white flag, Allgaier built out a lead of several car lengths that was quickly erased by Mayer and Hill in front of the more aero-efficient pack. “I knew that if I lifted, I was gonna get swallowed up,” Allgaier said, “and I just didn’t think that was the right choice.”

The choice that Allgaier made with just two laps left in regulation helped turned the outcome. His No. 7 team told him over the radio communications to be ready, preparing him for the move that would break up the single-file group. When Mayer appeared to feint low, Allgaier dove to the bottom lane to set JRM’s attack in motion.

“I really thought it was a little late to be honest with you, which is kind of funny,” said Allgaier, who led 36 laps, second only to Hill’s race-best 39. “You know, (Mayer) felt like it was a little early; I felt like it was a little late. I thought we made the right move, just then you’re worried about running out of fuel and all the other scenarios.”

Said Mayer: “I think it was probably one lap early, but I think the cars, the way we’re set up here, I think it’s what you have to do almost in certain situations. Because once you get the lead, it’s easy to control it once you get up there. You’ve just got to get there first. So I think that’s why he did what he did and why everyone did what they did. But I mean, it’s Daytona. All hell’s gonna break loose anyway. No matter what you do, something’s gonna go wrong, and sometimes you’re on the short end of the stick like we were tonight.”

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Behind them, the jostling continued and contact between Berry and Jones sent the latter’s No. 9 Chevrolet out of line and spinning into the backstretch grass. He drove away from the off-course excursion and finished 14th, on the lead lap.

“Josh did all he could do to try to win the race, right,” Jones told in the Xfinity garage. “He wanted to make the move to try to get that train started. And here I was late, I was slow, whatever it was, just to make that block and he can’t lift, I don’t think at that point, you know what I mean? If he lifts, it’s gonna stack his deal up, and at that point, I’m committed. I’ve got to try to take it and hope for the best. And it’s something I’ve just got to work on a little bit probably in the future, is just really getting aggressive with making the move like that.

“But it’s just tough, right? You run around all day, and wait and wait on when the plan is going to happen, and when we’re all going to make our move to go. And really, it’s kind of coming a little late for me. I was thinking in my head, eight to go-ish and that’s when we need to start thinking about making this move. And then we get down to five (laps left) and it’s something that never really happened. And so it got down to where it was gonna be pretty late, you’re gonna have one shot at it.”

Berry continued after his contact with Jones, but those same concerns that Allgaier voiced about running out of gas struck his No. 8 Chevy, which sputtered dry under yellow on the first extra lap.

“I think Brandon was sort of late on that block obviously. The last thing I want to do is spin out one of my teammates, but I felt like I was plenty far up on him that I don’t feel like I did anything wrong,” Berry said after finishing 26th.

None of their four efforts were enough to dislodge Hill’s solo march.

“I feel like, everyone has a different opinion, but I felt like we were better with our strength in numbers trying to beat the 21,” Berry said. “He thought otherwise.”