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JR Motorsports watches chances to win Daytona Xfinity race slip away

Austin Hill survived overtime and a race-ending yellow to hold off Justin Allgaier and capture his second straight Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Three laps from the scheduled end of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway, JR Motorsports had all four cars aligned behind leader Austin Hill.

“I felt like I was going to be a sitting duck,” Hill said.

Instead, JRM finished with one car spinning through the backstretch grass, one car running out fuel before the start of overtime and another car going upside down in overtime.

It was Hill winning this race for the second year in a row.

What looked like a potential victory for JRM, turned into the organization having one car finish in the top five and no other car finishing better than 14th.

Everything changed for JR Motorsports two laps from the scheduled distance. Allgaier, running third, went low, while teammate Josh Berry, running second, remained behind Hill in the top lane.

Brandon Jones, in his first race with JRM, moved down from his spot in fourth to the bottom lane to be behind Allgaier. All of a sudden the JR Motorsports cars were two abreast and racing each other instead of ganging up on Hill.

“My plan was to wait toward the end and, hopefully, use my teammates’ help to try to get by (Hill),” Berry said.

Allgaier said it was time to go when he made his move.

“We come off of (Turn) 4 and my spotter says, ‘It’s going to happen right here, so be ready, it’s happening,’” Allgaier said. “I saw (Mayer) start to peek out, and I really assumed (Berry) was going to go down, too. When I realized he wasn’t and I knew the guys behind me were itching to do it, at that point, it was just a matter of trying to get to the bottom (lane).”

Sam Mayer car

Sam Mayer’s car after going upside down on the last lap of the Xfinity Series race Feb. 18, 2023, at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Dustin Long)

Berry got shuffled to fifth, made his was back to fourth on the backstretch and had a run when Jones moved to block his teammate. They made contact, turning Jones down the track and into the grass. Jones would finish 14th.

That sent the race into overtime. Berry then ran out of fuel. He would finish 26th.

Hill was the leader on the outside lane for the restart. Allgaier was on the inside of the front row and had Mayer behind him.

Allgaier took the lead in Turn 3 after the restart and stretched his advantage to more than two car lengthson the final lap — too far ahead because it allowed those trailing to draft and catch him.

“When we got to the end of the front straightaway, I was like, ‘Man, that was a bad plan,’” Allgaier said. “It’s so hard to want to back yourself up when you are the leader. I knew if I lifted I was going to get swallowed up. I just didn’t think that was the right choice.”

Mayer received a push and got into Allgaier’s draft. Mayer pulled to the outside. Allgaier moved up to block. It was too late.

“I was running way slower than he was,” Allgaier said. “I tried to block as much as I could, but there’s no reason to wreck both of us at that point.”

Mayer said: “I came with a heck of a run. … I came down to block (Hill).”

Mayer wasn’t clear and there was contact with Hill that turned Mayer’s car into the SAFER barrier and go upside down. He would finish 27th.

“It actually was a lot more violent than I thought it was going to be,” Mayer said of his first time upside down in a stock car. “That first impact into the wall and then going up and then down, I think, was the big one. I think it is probably the hardest hit I’ve ever taken.”

While Mayer crashed, Hill, Allgaier and John Hunter Nemechek raced three-wide for the win.

“As soon as (Mayer) turned across my nose, it allowed … (Parker Retzlaff) to get to my bumper and they just never lifted and they gave me a really big shot and they started pushing me down the back,” Hill said.

The caution came out and NASCAR needed about five minutes to determine the winner based on a video review.

The result was Hill celebrating and JRM leaving without a victory it seemed to be well positioned for in the final laps.