With the victory – Mayer’s second in the playoffs – he becomes the first driver to lock himself into the Championship 4 at Phoenix in two weeks.
Saturday’s race was a seesaw battle as several title contenders ran into issues. Cole Custer, who led 114 of the 200 laps, hit the wall and was forced to pit with less than 50 laps remaining, which turned the lead over to Mayer.
While Mayer grabbed a sizeable lead on the final restart, Riley Herbst ran him down over the final laps and nearly caught him, falling by 0.227 seconds at the checkered flag.
The win is the fourth of Mayer’s career, with all coming this season, and his first on an oval track.
“It’s unreal – we won on an oval!” Mayer said after the race. “I can’t believe it. This car was so good. Obviously (Custer) was fast but it’s all about putting a whole race together. I’m so proud of these guys – they kicked tail on pit road.
“Stewart-Haas had it today, that’s for sure. It’s just really cool to be able to beat an amazing organization like that. Riley definitely turned it on and we had to turn it on a little harder to go to Phoenix.”
John Hunter Nemechek finished third in the race, Austin Hill was fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his second start of the season, ended up fifth.
With only next weekend’s race remaining to qualify for the Championship 4, the four drivers lowest in points and without a win and in danger of being eliminated are Justin Allgaier, Sammy Smith, Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed.
Custer led every lap but held off a late charge from Mayer by 0.563 seconds to take the Stage 1 win. Nemechek was third, Creed fourth and Brett Moffitt rounded out the top five.
C.J. McLaughlin was forced to bring his car to pit road in the final laps of the stage after a mechanical issue and a fire broke out while he was in his pit. It was quickly extinguished.
Derek Kraus charged to the lead with 13 of 45 laps remaining and held off Nemechek to claim the Stage 2 victory. Custer was third, Mayer fourth and Allgaier completed the top-five.
During the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap cars all pit with Custer first off pit road. He led Allgaier and Nemechek when the race returned to green with 104 laps to go.
One lap later, playoff driver Chandler Smith and Moffitt wrecked down the backstretch after several drivers collided racing three-wide.
The damage was extensive to Smith’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet and he was eventually knocked out of the race. He will likely have to win next weekend at Martinsville to have a chance to compete for the 2023 series title the following week at Phoenix.
The race resumed with 97 laps left and Custer in the lead.
With 80 laps remaining, Allgaier was forced to pit under green with a loose left-rear wheel. He returned to the track in 27th and one lap down.
Several lead-lap cars hit pit road to kick off a round of green-flag pit stops with just over 60 laps to go. Once the cycle of stops was completed, Custer powered back into the lead with 53 laps remaining.
Custer slammed the wall on lap 151, fell off the pace and was forced to pit under green which turned the lead over to Mayer.
NASCAR was forced to throw a caution for a loose tire on lap 164 that rolled down pit road. Several lead-lap cars decided to pit but Creed elected to remain on the track and inherited the lead.
Creed led the way on the restart with 30 laps to go followed by Mayer and Hill.
Mayer quickly moved into the lead on the restart only for the race to go back under caution when Josh Berry slammed the wall in Turn 4 after contact from his team owner, Earnhardt. Mayer remained out front as the race resumed with 23 laps left.
With five laps remaining, Herbst got around Nemechek to take over the second position and began to challenge Mayer for the lead.