CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 28: Matt Mills, driver of the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28, 2021 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) | Getty Images
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 28: Matt Mills, driver of the #5 J.F. Electric Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco Uniforms 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28, 2021 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Matt Mills Looks to Get Out of Current Rut Despite ‘Mind Boggling’ Year

By Dustin Albino

In NASCAR, more times than not, drivers are judged off their results. From that standpoint, the 2021 — and even 2020 — Xfinity Series season has not gone as planned for Matt Mills. 

But from a speed standpoint, Mills has shown flashes of potential in the No. 5 car for BJ McLeod Motorsports. Because of that, his average result of 29.3 in 13 starts this season is hard to comprehend. 

“At this point, it seems like it’s hard to do anything right,” BJ McLeod, owner of BJ McLeod Motorsports, recently told of his team’s season. “I try to stay there for [Mills] because I’m his friend off the track. Matt is dealing with one of the worst downs I’ve ever been around. I’m not going to say the worst, but he’s definitely got a lot against him right now.”

That can’t be said for Mills’ first two races of the season. In the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, he escaped the chaos en route to a respectable 16th-place finish. The following week, he scored his best career road course finish of 19th at Daytona. 

But since then, it’s been downhill on the scoring pylon. 

Since his top-20 run on the Daytona road course, Mills has a best finish of 23rd at Mid-Ohio Sports Car course two weeks ago, with six finishes of 33rd or worse in 11 starts. 

Not ideal for a driver that has something to prove. 

“The first two weeks were going well, and we were like, ‘This is already better than how 2020 went,'” Mills said. “Then, we went out west and little things just started to happen, mechanical failures and certain things. It started putting us in a rut again, so we’re trying to work out of that as much as we can.

“If we can get all of these things worked out, we’re going to be good because every time we show up to the track, we have top 20 speed.”

Name something that can go wrong on a racecar and it’s probably happened to the No. 5 team this season. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Mills had an electrical issue and finished 39th. Running the same car the following week at Phoenix Raceway, the team had another mechanical failure. 

The series came back east to Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the No. 5 car had a shock come apart, in what BJMM’s shock specialist said he hadn’t seen happen in 25 years. 

At that point, Mills is thinking, “We’re just trying to get out of this rut; it’s honestly just mind boggling of trying to keep up with everything that’s happened.”

The series had two weeks off to regroup. But when coming back, Mills had more electrical issues, this time during the pace laps at Martinsville Speedway. Spending the first handful of laps on pit road, the No. 5 car finished 33rd, nine laps down.

On a personal level, Mills was most dumbfounded with himself at what happened at Darlington Raceway. He wrecked out on lap 44, coming to the end of the first stage. He believed he had a good racecar, too. 

“For whatever reason, I thought I needed to pass someone else for no reason at all,” Mills stated. “I think it was one of those things where if we hadn’t had issues or anything like that, the race would have gone a little more smoothly, and maybe I would have used my head a little bit more. But when you get into a rut, especially like the rut we had in 2020, when you get a good car you’re just wanting to race, sometimes you get too caught up in the moment and make mistakes like that.”

In his four races since Darlington, Mills has been involved in a gnarly pileup at Dover International Speedway when Matt Jaskol ended up on top of Jesse Little’s car. At Charlotte Motor Speedway, he was involved in an accident with Jeffrey Earnhardt. And last weekend at Texas, the No. 5 car went sliding through the infield as Gray Gaulding and Tanner Berryhill wrecked. 

So how does Mills keep a positive outlook going forward?

“I hate to say bad luck – bad luck kind of bit us,” Mills added. “It’s nice to know we’ve had speed everywhere we’ve went this year and the team is improving each time we show up to the racetrack. If we can get out of this rut, we’re going to have a really good season.”

Outside of the car, Mills admittedly leans heavily on McLeod and his wife, Jessica McLeod, who is the co-owner of BJMM. Since 2019, the Virginia native has been a staple of BJ McLeod Motorsports. 

But more importantly, Mills has a real friendship with McLeod. It’s not uncommon to see the two drivers hanging out on the lake, at a local restaurant or even at the movies together. 

“I’m just happy that he’s focused, very resilient and we’re going to get through it,” McLeod said of Mills. “We’re going to push until something right goes our way and we’ll just keep that going once that happens.”

So when Mills’ head has been down in the dumps and having doubts about his career, he leans on the McLeods more than anyone. 

“BJ and Jessica have been such a help to me to where I can keep my mindset right,” he said. “They tell me all the time, ‘We know we can be good together, we picked you for a reason.’ But you get into that rut and you’re thinking, ‘What can I do differently?’ Even if it’s a parts failure out of your control, you’re like, ‘What could I have done differently?’”

Currently sitting 30th in owner points and 31st in driver points, the team isn’t worried about making the postseason. The sole focus of the No. 5 team is to stay inside the top 30 in owner points (currently holds a 14-point advantage over the No. 15 JD Motorsports car), so it can continue receiving bonus money. 

Building off that, plus having 11 newer chassis in house, McLeod believes his team will turn it around. 

McLeod said, “My main concern is getting everybody rolling in the right direction and moving momentum the right way because momentum means everything in this sport and we have to get some shifted our way.

“We’re not in the best spot right now, but their mind, effort and work ethic are in the right spot. As long as that’s there, we’ll get it back going the way we want it.”