June 15, 2024: NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. (HHP/Jacy Norgaard)
Sam Mayer after his win at Iowa Speedway on Saturday. (HHP/Jacy Norgaard)

SOLOMON: Sam Mayer’s Right – He Deserves Cup Looks

Sam Mayer’s extraordinary last 11 months should speak for itself.

Since earning his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Road America (Wis.) in July, he’s won six times — the most of any driver. All of his wins have come at different places and have included road courses, intermediate tracks and now short tracks with his Iowa Speedway triumph on Saturday.

But despite his incredible stretch, the soon-to-be 21-year-old continues to fly under the radar of Cup Series organizations.

No doubt, Mayer’s Xfinity Series career didn’t start out great. As soon as he turned 18, he jumped into JR Motorsports’ No. 8 entry on the heels of Josh Berry’s stellar spring slate. Six of Mayer’s first 13 races resulted in a DNF, and in 18 starts, he recorded just one top 10.

In 2022 — his first full season — Mayer had 19 top 10s and finished seventh in points. It was certainly respectable, but many had hoped he’d find a way to victory lane. 2023 started similarly, and it began to feel like Mayer’s seat at JRM could be in jeopardy.

Then, something flipped.

Coming off a near-win and runner-up finish at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Mayer outdueled Parker Kligerman and Sage Karam through speedy dry for his first career victory at Road America. A few weeks later, Mayer did it again — punting arch-nemesis Ty Gibbs and holding off Sheldon Creed at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l.

Mayer’s third win came at another road course — the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. But two weeks later, he finally checked off an oval by winning his way into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

This season didn’t start well for Mayer, who crashed in three of the first four races. But both of his wins have come since April, and over the last eight races, he’s finished worse than fourth just twice.

Mayer’s arguably been the best driver in the Xfinity Series over the last year. But his phone hasn’t been ringing from Cup Series representatives.

“It kind of pisses me off, to be honest with you,” Mayer said, speaking after Saturday’s victory. “I feel like we’ve proved ourselves a lot more, like I’m dead serious — It makes me so mad that my name isn’t in more hats for race teams. So hopefully (winning at Iowa) kind of put my name and a couple of them.

“I want to go Sunday racing, obviously, one day. How soon? I don’t know. But me, the 98 (Riley Herbst, runner-up) — all those guys — there’s so many people up in the top five, top 10 that have something to prove.

“If you can be top dog in those guys, I feel like you deserve it. So I’m putting it all out there, literally. I’m gonna say stupid things but apologize later after I go win.”

With Stewart-Haas Racing shutting down at season’s end and selling its four charters, there could be a window for Mayer to make it up to the Cup Series in 2025. But generally speaking, Craftsman Truck Series star Corey Heim and Joe Gibbs Racing product Chandler Smith have gotten the most attention. Of course, the talented Richard Childress Racing duo of Austin Hill and Jesse Love can’t be excluded, either.

It almost doesn’t make sense that Mayer isn’t sought after.

He’s young. Most Cup Series drivers don’t peak until their 30s. The sooner he can get into a Cup car, the sooner he can learn the Next Gen nuances and hit his stride. After all, Mayer hasn’t even had a legal alcoholic beverage — his post-win toasts at JRM are done with chocolate milk.

He’s marketable. Mayer will don at least nine different primary sponsors on his car in 2024, a far cry from when Accelerate was nearly his only primary. Plus, his MO can resonate well with younger fans.

Maybe most importantly, he’s not afraid to make mistakes — and he’ll own them, too.

While Mayer has a great home at JRM in the Xfinity Series, he deserves looks from Cup Series teams, and he probably should be a little pissed off.