The 2014 Indy 500 rookie voting should have been fit to be tied

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Ties are not necessarily popular, but in some instances, they work.

Some Barclays Premier League matches and NHL hockey games are so hard fought by both squads that for one side to emerge ahead of the other doesn’t do justice to the other. After regulation and overtime, sometimes, draws happen.

And last night, a draw should have happened when it came to voting for the 2014 Sunoco Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, because two first-year drivers performed extraordinarily this month under vastly different circumstances.

They are, of course, Kurt Busch and Sage Karam. While Busch captured the award, and justifiably, Karam’s efforts deserved a similar level of recognition.

Busch, now 35, has spent the last 15 years growing and developing in NASCAR. He’s won races, a Sprint Cup Series championship, then fallen out of favor with two of the sport’s most elite teams and performed an incredible career comeback after two years in the wilderness.

Karam, 19, was all of 5 years old when Busch started his first Sprint Cup race in 2000. But since he was 8, Karam and his family went to the mecca of open-wheel racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, dreaming of the day when he’d have the chance to race in the ‘500.

Busch enjoyed sampling whatever he could get his hands on away from Cup – Michel Jourdain’s Champ Car in 2003, an NHRA Pro Stock car and an Australian V8 Supercar to name a few.

Karam progressed through the traditional Mazda Road to Indy ladder, winning championships in USF2000 and Indy Lights, and winning races in Star Mazda.

Together, they arrived at this year’s Indianapolis 500 both with rookie status, but with completely different agendas and operations to work with.

For Busch, a preliminary test in 2013 with Andretti Autosport was the first step toward a debut that could serve as a major media and marketing storyline.

For Karam, his 2013 offseason was one of trying everything he could to graduate to a full-time ride in IndyCar through the efforts of his family, his management and his support team. While that didn’t occur, he did catch the eye of Chip Ganassi, who signed him to a developmental driver contract.

Karam dazzled in two sports car starts at Daytona and Sebring, drawing praise from Ganassi and his pair of Target-backed Indy 500 winners and series champions, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

Ultimately Karam was able to put a deal together, in a one-off Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing Chevrolet that, while CGR-assisted, was almost entirely DRR-crewed. The car was the embodiment of the power of partnerships.

Karam had four unofficial teammates at CGR, plus CGR advisor Dario Franchitti; Busch had four actual teammates at Andretti Autosport.

Busch learned methodically; Karam learned rapidly and largely on his own, in the team’s first IndyCar start in a year.

They both had their one “Welcome to Indy, rookie,” moment.

Busch whacked the Turn 2 wall on the Monday before the race, and his No. 26 Suretone Entertainment Honda was trashed, requiring a backup car.

Karam had his on Carb Day when he lost it exiting Turn 4, but made an absolutely wicked save to hang onto his No. 22 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records/Brantley Gilbert Chevrolet from hitting either the inside retaining wall or the pit wall.

Karam starred during the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Competition, making it to the finals and stirring up the crowd with his celebrations.

In the race, both drove like veterans in avoiding the pitfalls that plagued so many others.

Karam made passes you wouldn’t expect many a veteran to try; Busch had catlike reflexes to avoid flying debris on two instances.

They both ended in the top 10, Busch in sixth and Karam in ninth, the two best drivers of a seven-pack of rookies that all finished the race.

While Busch was a first-timer on Sunday in IndyCar, Karam was a rookie. So giving just Busch the Rookie of the Year title doesn’t do justice to Karam’s effort all month.

It also opens up the Pandora’s Box where if a NASCAR driver comes into the Indianapolis 500 and does as well as Busch does, they could take the ROTY title almost by default.

What does that say for young drivers who come through the open-wheel ladder, traditionally, that they then have to battle NASCAR drivers to get the recognition for being the best standard first-timer at IndyCar’s most prestigious race?

Was Busch impressive all month? No question. But Karam’s efforts deserve the plaudits, as well.

We have a precedent for this, too, because in 2002 Alex Barron was the top finishing first-year driver in fourth, and Tomas Scheckter, who led the most laps, was the star attraction of the race before crashing off Turn 4. Both were awarded the co-ROTY honors.

In 2014, Busch was your top finisher, and Karam was the first-year star attraction.

But the voters got it wrong. Karam should have gotten a piece of the pie, as well.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2