Chandler Smith and Ty Gibbs arguably were the fastest two cars in the 2019 Herr’s Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday night (Oct. 6). But for much of the race, Sam Mayer raced inside the top five and was third for a large portion of the race.
After qualifying in ninth for his 10th career ARCA Menards Series start, Mayer initially didn’t fire off remarkably fast.
“We were really tight early in the race,” Mayer said. “We have struggled a lot, even though we were able to keep up with those guys and make some passes into the top five.”
When the first caution flag period took place, all the lead lap cars, including Mayer, pitted. Mayer and his GMS Racing team made some adjustments to his No. 21 Chevrolet, and he seemingly shot out of a cannon.
— Mark Kristl (@MarkKristl) October 6, 2019
“After we made those adjustments on the pit stop to free the car up, we found the speed in the car that we needed to contend for the win,” Mayer said. “Getting up to the top three and hanging out there for a while — then that last restart came where we had to fix our damage that we got on that last run, which put us back to 10th place.
“We were able to get up to third on that last restart because of old tires, being out front and all that. It definitely was a really solid restart, and I can’t thank my team for bringing me out here and giving me this opportunity to come out and show my stuff.”
When Joe Graf Jr. and Gibbs made contact which resulted in a caution and subsequent DNF for Gibbs, Mayer said he didn’t see what happened. He didn’t withhold his thoughts on how Graf Jr. was driving in the race though.
“When the No. 77 got by me, he door-slammed me,” Mayer said. “I was like, ‘He’s going to wreck someone, he’s on a mission.’
“Five laps later, we have a caution for the No. 18. I feel bad for Ty, he was the class of the field. We got to get better to race with him, but I feel like if he was around for that last run, we would have had something for him. It definitely was a really solid race, and I’ll take a podium finish any day.”
As far as what Mayer needed to compete with Gibbs, he doesn’t know, other than he and his team need to find that last missing ingredient. Still, he is confident they’ll be closer next season.
The misfortune for Gibbs and the ensuing restart offered Mayer another chance to win his first ARCA race. If Mother Nature hadn’t intervened, would he have been able to race with Smith and second-place finisher Christian Eckes for the victory?
“Yeah for sure,” Mayer said about catching the front two. “I mean those guys were going really hard battling for that lead, when it wasn’t raining.”
Mayer chuckled, then continued, “They expected the rain to come. I knew it, too, but I was so far back from them. I was about a second back from them already, so I just decided to start saving my stuff and keeping it for the end. The end never came. If it would have returned to the green flag, we would have had a good shot to win, just with newer tires, basically.”
Mayer’s third-place finish ends his ARCA season, as he is ineligible to compete in the season finale at Kansas Speedway due to only being 16 years old. Driving for GMS, Mayer won four of the 12 races this season and captured the K&N Pro Series East championship by starting the season finale at Dover International Speedway on Friday evening (Oct. 4).
The 16-year-old has two races remaining on his schedule: the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races at Martinsville Speedway and ISM Raceway, driving the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet. In his lone Truck Series start thus far this season at Bristol Motor Speedway, he started 18th but finished 21st following a wreck, prematurely ending his debut.
Mayer knows it’s a daunting challenge competing in the Truck Series, but his K&N East championship and third place at Lucas Oil Raceway have him ready to go.
“The Truck Series races are a completely different animal,” Mayer said. “They are a lot harder while you are trying to go 100% all the time — also trying to save your stuff. I am excited for the Truck Series races.
“I think the momentum will help, and we are going to two tracks I love. Phoenix [ISM Raceway] I have never been to, but I have done it on iRacing, so I love that track and I hope we can do well there. I tested at Martinsville earlier this year, and we were fast. I think we can contend for a top five, maybe even a win.”