Money debut from Sage Karam, 31st to 9th, leads six traditional Indy 500 rookies

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On Friday, 19-year-old Sage Karam dazzled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd over a few feet on pit lane during the Carb Day Pit Stop Competition.

On Sunday, he did so in a dynamic charge through the field over 200 laps, 500 miles and 800 left-hand turns.

Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion of Nazareth, Pa., made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the series’ biggest race – the 98th Indianapolis 500 – from the final row of the field, in 31st place on the grid and ended ninth when all was said and done.

Throughout the race, despite his pit stop sequence seeing him pit anywhere from three to four laps sooner than the leaders, Karam began a methodical charge through the field of five spots into the 20s, then into the teens, and ultimately into the top-10.

“I knew qualifying wasn’t showing our true speed,” he said post-race. “I wanted to come to the front so badly. I came up to about eighth or ninth, then I caught the yellow at worst spot. Went a lap down and had to do it all over again.

“We ran out of time. But the car was on fire. It was awesome. I’m so blessed and honored. I hope this isn’t my last IndyCar race this year.”

One of Karam’s moves during the field was only for 18th place, but it was a move that even some of Indy’s legends wouldn’t have dared.

He tried, and succeeded, passing fellow rookie Mikhail Aleshin, the first Russian to race the Indianapolis 500, on the outside of Turn 1. Going into the race, I’d have expected Aleshin to try that move, not necessarily Karam.

But that’s the beauty of being a confident, but not cocky, 19-year-old fearless rookie. And he pulled it off in style.

“Dario (Franchitti) told me before the race that these cars, they could go on outside, two-wide. So I just went for it,” Karam said. “Maybe it was a little too aggressive too early, but I was on a mission to get to the front. And the car stuck.”

Karam is optimistic his performance today will lead to future IndyCar opportunities the rest of the year. He admitted this was the hardest race he’s driven.

He also impressed his boss for this race, Dennis Reinbold. Karam’s car was sponsored by Comfort Revolution, Big Machine Records and Brantley Gilbert, and entered by Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing in partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“He was great to work with from Day 1,” Reinbold said post-race. “I’ve never seen a 19-year-old with his maturity level. He got faster and faster every lap, and yet he was so calm … I don’t think his heart rate got above a resting pulse. Outside, he’s a fun-loving 19-year-old, but he gets behind the wheel and starts doing big things.”

While Karam’s next race is the proverbial to-be-determined, and the top finishing rookie in the field was Kurt Busch, P6 in a one-off, here’s how the rest of the rookies fared:

  • KV Racing Technology’s James Davison ended P16, up from P28 on the grid, in the Always Evolving Racing-backed No. 33 Chevrolet. Davison admitted he lost ground to Alex Tagliani, Jacques Villeneuve and Sebastian Saavedra on the last restart but was otherwise pleased after a trouble-free run.
  • Same story for Dale Coyne’s Carlos Huertas, who in his first ever oval race was impressively anonymous – P17 from 21st on the grid, best of Coyne’s three cars, and completed all 200 laps.
  • Early season revelations Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian) and Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) ended 20th and 21st. Hawksworth fought understeer while Aleshin lost ground on a pit stop, but led a lap during a pit sequence (Lap 32), his first in IndyCar competition.
  • It was a tough day at the office for A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ Martin Plowman, but in 23rd he made it seven rookie finishers after seven rookies started. Plowman finished four laps down and made contact with Josef Newgarden under a caution that took the young American out of the race.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?