Sam Mayer returns to his ARCA roots, gains both experience and a trophy at Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, Calif. — Sam Mayer built his name on the ARCA Menards Series platform when he won consecutive East Series titles in 2019 and 2020. The NASCAR Xfinity Series driver for JR Motorsports evidently hasn’t lost his touch after a few years.

In his first ARCA appearance since the 2021 season, Mayer wheeled the No. 23 SPS/GMS Fabrication Chevrolet to Victory Lane in the General Tire 200 on Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He competed in the ARCA Menards Series West race as a form of preparation for Saturday’s Sonoma 250 Xfinity Series race.

And it wasn’t easy.

The 20-year-old Mayer was cruising to a victory when a caution came out for a Trevor Huddleston spin just before Mayer could take the white flag. That bunched up the leaders for an overtime restart in which the field would take the green and white flags simultaneously.

RELATED: Complete Sonoma results

Mayer didn’t flinch. He utilized a perfect restart and a smooth final lap to run away with a trophy in addition to the experience he sought out Friday on the 1.990-mile road course.

“I was mostly worried about the fuel,” said Mayer, who said he spent much of the closing stages of Friday’s race in gas-saving mode. “I didn’t know if it would last, or if it was going to stutter at all. But I’ve been practicing that a lot lately. We’ve been in that scenario a lot on the Xfinity side, so being able to use that over here and get a win is super cool.”

On one hand, Mayer’s performance at Sonoma was a dominant effort. He logged the best speed in practice and followed that session with the General Tire Pole Award. But the Franklin, Wisconsin, native had to deal with the young-and-hungry William Sawalich, who qualified second after winning last week’s West Series road-course race at Portland International Raceway.

Sawalich took the lead from Mayer with a clean pass on Lap 5. The 17-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver kept the top spot and appeared to be the driver to beat until the turning point of the race.

On a Lap 28 restart, Sawalich ran off the track — apparently after some bumper-to-bumper contact with Mayer — and fell out of the top 10. Sawalich experienced more issues on another restart later in the race; he ran into the back of Isabella Robusto’s No. 55 Toyota and caved in the front of his No. 18 Toyota.

With Sawalich out of the running for the victory, Mayer soon after the halfway point of the race found himself trailing fellow NASCAR national series competitor Noah Gragson for the lead. Gragson, though, overcooked his No. 30 Rette Jones Racing Ford into a corner and gave up the point with 31 laps to go.

Through a handful of late cautions, including the aforementioned yellow that forced overtime, Mayer maintained the lead and scored his second West Series victory. He also won the 2020 Star Nursery 150 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We fought some balance issues early,” Mayer said. “But [we] made really good adjustments and fired off really good in the second half [of the race].”

The victory marked the first for Joe Farré as a car owner. Farré, an owner/driver for Sigma Performance Services, has been assisting with cleanup efforts pertaining to the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, which collapsed early in the morning on March 26 when the container ship MV Dali collided with one of its piers after losing power.

Tyler Reif finished second ahead of defending West Series champion Sean Hingorani in third. Aided by the late cautions and with a repaired front end, Sawalich rebounded for a fourth-place finish.

Jack Wood came home fifth ahead of Isabella Robusto in sixth. Eric Johnson Jr., Brandon Jones, Kyle Keller and Travis McCullough finished seventh through 10th, respectively.

Gragson finished a lap down in 16th after a late spin. Marco Andretti, who won the IndyCar race at Sonoma in 2006, finished 11th; he cut a tire with 26 laps to go and was forced to pit.

Friday’s General Tire 200 included six cautions.

The West Series gets almost a month off before it returns to action for a special doubleheader at California’s Irwindale Speedway. The popular half-mile oval outside of Los Angeles will host a pair of West Series races on July 4 and July 6, both starting at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET.

FloRacing will provide live coverage of both Irwindale races.