By Pat DeCola
4 Minute Read
FONTANA, Calif. – The last time JR Motorsports did not finish with one of its cars in the top five of an Xfinity Series race was at Daytona International Speedway – last August.
The most recent non-superspeedway-style race where the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned operation fell short? Well, you’ll have to go all the way back to the Xfinity Series Championship … in 2021.
While the checkered flag and trophy will wind up at the Joe Gibbs Racing HQ with race-winner John Hunter Nemechek outpacing JRM’s Sam Mayer on the final run to win the Production Alliance Group 300, the class of the field for (what’s usually) NASCAR’s Saturday series was once again up to its weekly ways Sunday night at Auto Club Speedway. The 300-miler was initially slated to run Saturday afternoon in Southern California before heavy rain – and at times, snow flurries the size of cotton balls – pushed the event to Sunday after the Cup Series race.
Saturday, Sunday; the day of the week matters not. If there’s an Xfinity race, you’ll find a JRM car finishing in the top five. There were three of ’em Sunday, with Nos. 7 and 8 drivers Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry finishing third and fifth, respectively.
MORE: Full Auto Club results | Updated Xfinity Series standings
Mayer, who started 22nd after the lineup was set per the rule book with qualifying canceled, said he had a mid-pack car at the start of the race that his team cranked on throughout the evening to give him a shot at the win. Had a few things gone his way on pit road, he would’ve.
“I think we were just as good as the 20 (of Nemechek) at the end. I mean, we did not start off that way and we had a lot of work to do and our No. 1 Accelerate Camaro definitely got a lot better throughout the day when the kitchen sink was added,” Mayer said on pit road after the race. “But super proud of my guys. I mean, they did everything right there at the end … that’s a lot to be proud of, to kind of go from a 20th-place car to like a solid second-place car.”
Allgaier and Berry echoed those sentiments about their own teams, with the latter crediting JRM and Hendrick Motorsports specifically for the “tons of support” the championship Cup operation lends the closely associated JRM.
It’s evident that Earnhardt’s four-car operation, though it’s seen its share of faces come and go over the years (often to the Cup Series, if that’s any indication of how things are going for them) has had things clicking on all cylinders for years now. The cohesiveness between cars, drivers and crews across the company is a major factor.
“Our team is rock solid. You know, I say our seven team is rock solid, but really JR Motorsports as a whole,” said Allgaier, JRM’s longest-tenured driver having been there since 2016. “There’s a lot of depth. A lot of great crew chiefs. A lot of great drivers, a lot of great just information flowing through our building. What, three in the top five? And honestly, the nine (of teammate Brandon Jones, who spun and finished 33rd) doesn’t have his issues early on, I think he’s equally up there with us as well.”
Even if everyone in the shop is on the same page and working toward the same organization-wide goals – namely, its first championship since going back-to-back with William Byron and Tyler Reddick in 2017 and ’18, respectively – don’t get it twisted. These are still race car drivers competing against each other when it all boils down.
And there are bragging rights on the line.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s huge (to finish as the highest JRM car). Like, that’s goal number one going into every week is to be the top JRM car,” said Mayer. “Because if you do that, you’re gonna be top three at least. Our (car) was really good there at the end and obviously, it was the best one of the four, so that’s a big deal.”
Meanwhile, Mayer remains the lone JRM driver without a series victory in his career, but it’s coming. Clearly.
The first two weeks of the season have both ended in a degree of disappointment for the 19-year-old Wisconsin native – spending part of last week’s Daytona opener on his roof after a crash at the end of the race before coming up just short on Sunday.
“Yeah, heartbreak, because I can taste that first win there … it’s literally like 20, 30 yards ahead of me and I just can’t break that bubble,” said Mayer, who walked out of Auto Club seventh in points. “But I’m super happy. I’m super happy to be a part of that gig and obviously, the race director being proud of me is a really big deal.
“So I mean, I’m just ready for next week to come because I know we’re gonna have a lot of speed and be really good. … Vegas is another good track of mine, so I’m looking forward to going there.”
And if it’s not that elusive first win that he picks up, you can take it to the bank that it’ll be a top five.