MARTINSVILLE, Va. – What was shaping up to be a breakout day in 16-year-old Sam Mayer’s career ended in heartbreak during Saturday’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
Mayer, who charged from 21st to the lead by the closing laps of the second stage on Saturday, was shuffled into the third lane following a lap-122 restart in which he overdrove the entry into turn one and lost the lead to Ross Chastain as a result.
The Franklin, Wis., teenager then got squeezed into Grant Enfinger off the exit of turn two barely a lap later, triggering a chain-reaction crash that saw his No. 21 Chevrolet Silverado pound the outside wall in a melee of twisted sheet metal.
Unfortunately for Mayer, the damage sustained in the accident was enough to end his day, after several highlight-worthy moments in just his second-career Truck Series appearance.
Despite an earlier skirmish with Enfinger when he first took the top spot, Mayer refused to blame anyone for getting shuffled back into the crash that ultimately cut his afternoon short at Martinsville.
“I have no one to blame except for myself,” noted Mayer. “I just went off in the corner way too deep, like two car lengths way too deep. I bet if I looked at the replay, Ross probably broke about two car lengths earlier than I was. I just … I got mind tricked. You can’t say it any other way. I just missed it and put myself in a terrible situation which ended up ending our day.
“I can’t thank GMS (Racing) enough for everything they do, Manpower for giving me this opportunity, and hopefully we can go to Phoenix and perform better.”
Prior to that, Mayer stayed out during a caution in the closing stages of the second stage and used a muscle move on lap 89 to wrestle the race lead away from veteran and regular-season champion Grant Enfinger.
From there, the reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion won stage two – his first-ever stage win – and led 33 consecutive laps before the restart that led to his downfall for the day.
It was a sequence that left Mayer smiling from ear to ear, despite the final outcome on paper.
“There’s so many positives from today. I mean, I won a stage, for crying out loud!” Mayer grinned. “That’s awesome. We just missed it at the end when it really mattered. I was having a blast up there, though. I even said over the radio, this is awesome. And then all that happened, but I mean we’ll definitely take plenty of positives out of this.
“I’m definitely disappointed in myself, especially, but I mean … we picked up a spot on pit road and that’s the first time I’ve ever done that. We had an awesome truck to run up front and lead laps with. It’s just a great day; it really was.”
In regards to his battle with Enfinger, Mayer was a bit apologetic after the fact, but affirmed that he wasn’t going to back down when he felt that he had a truck capable of contending for the win.
“That race was classic Martinsville,” Mayer noted. “Everyone was fighting for the bottom. I started like 21st or something and we were leading laps at the end of it. I feel kind of stupid for doing it (taking the lead) like I did, but I mean, he roughed me around a little bit at Bristol and I just wanted to say, ‘Hey, I’m a kid but I don’t want to get bullied.’
“I love this place and I’m going to come back next time and hopefully do a little bit better and race a little bit smarter.”
All in all, Mayer chalked his mistakes made up to rookie experience and vowed to come back at ISM Raceway stronger when he makes his last of three scheduled starts for the season.
“Like my crew chief Marty Lindley says, you don’t know what you don’t know,” Mayer said matter-of-factly. “That’s a blatant fact, but sometimes it proves itself in a place like this. There’s definitely a lot of positives to take out of today … I know I’ve said that a few times, but it’s really true, I think.
“Taking the lead at Martinsville, man, my leg was shaking under braking. It was pretty cool,” he continued. “We just have to finish the deal now. I’m starting to feel like a lot of other drivers that missed their chance, and hopefully I don’t go down that path and can start proving myself going forward.”