After Iowa, it’s official: Sage Karam is IndyCar’s talented, bold, new, needed “black hat”

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For those who have followed Sage Karam’s career as he’s come up and developed in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, his talent is obvious.

So is his aggression.

And the two elements collided in full Saturday night in what was Karam’s best race to date in his rookie season of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Karam, who started 10th, moved up early in the race and was bordering on another top-five finish to go along with his fifth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

But in the waning stages of the race, Karam muscled past Carlos Munoz and held off the advances of Ed Carpenter, while Carpenter ran high and Karam ran low.

The 20-year-old made it to his first career podium in third, but he didn’t earn many friends along the way.

“I mean Sage, you know I kept both of us from crashing and taking us from at least a top four until that, and IndyCar just lets him do whatever he wants,” Carpenter told Trackside Online’s Steve Wittich, via a FOXSports.com story.

“He’s Sage Karam, he’s had his ass kissed from the day he was born, and he does whatever he wants… no respect.”

A longform Sports Illustrated article on Karam would counter that last quote, but, heat of the moment and you get why Carpenter said what he did.

Carpenter’s CFH Racing teammate, Luca Filippi, isn’t exactly a firebrand. But the genial, polite and generally cool Italian more or less echoed Carpenter’s words in a single tweet:

A further quote from another talented American, current IndyCar second-place driver Graham Rahal, also indicates the concern others have about Karam.

“Sage has got a reputation for being that sort of driver and when you get up to the big leagues you need to be a little bit smarter,” Rahal told Wittich. “I think Ed hit the wall three or four times, I mean literally.  I lifted both times on two different straight aways because I thought they were both in the fence. Honestly, just careless driving, absolutely careless driving.  And until he gets penalized by the series they aren’t going to care.”

Karam’s brash, perhaps youthful exuberance came through in his immediate post-race interview to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt.

“He’s just angry at my driving. He says I squeezed him a few times, but it’s the same way he drove me,” Karam said. “It’s hard racing, I’m going for wins and that’s how we’re driving.

“It’s close racing, it’s Indy car racing. This ain’t go-karts or anything anymore. We’re going to race each other hard and we’re professionals and we know each other’s limits. Tough luck for him, I don’t know.”

By way of what he did Saturday night and also what he has done throughout the course of this season, Karam has done enough to earn a title that isn’t IndyCar rookie-of-the-year (he’s 39 points back of Gabby Chaves), but one that might serve him better long-term:

“IndyCar’s needed new black hat.”

When you come in with something to prove, and talent to burn, you occasionally ruffle some feathers. Karam has done that and then some this year.

Witness the fact Karam has garnered six in-race penalties in a year when post-race penalties have become all the rage.

He’s received two pit speed, two avoidable contact, one blocking and one improper pit entry penalties.

And then factor in the other drama with other drivers at various points this year – for example, the usually mild-mannered Ryan Briscoe said on the radio at Fontana that “Sage Karam is going to (expletive) kill someone” – and suddenly we have our villain dressed in an all-black firesuit.

This is not a bad thing.

The kid’s style is to attack, to push even harder than seems possible at times, and to give it his all, every lap.

When he doesn’t get the result he desires, he gets frustrated. I remember talking to him after Detroit race two this year – a race where he was positioned for a front row start, if not pole, provided qualifying hadn’t been canceled.

He’d gone through a roller-coaster day where he missed that start, rolled off from 20th, received both his avoidable contact penalties, and yet he was irate at fellow youngster Conor Daly, as he’d felt Daly had blocked him.

It spoke to me of a driver determined to perform, damn the torpedoes, and frustrated with whatever or whoever else got in his way.

IndyCar has talked up its #IndyRivals campaign this year without so much as an actual rivalry – or an actual villain – with which to sell.

But Karam provides all that in a wrestler’s package and then some.

He’s a good-looking, brash, talented, fierce American who has race-winning and championship potential within two to three years, who was good enough to draw the interest of no less an owner than Chip Ganassi, who rarely if ever gambles on rookies.

He still has room to grow even though he has matured some over the last two to three years from where he was in his early MRTI days.

Yes, he could afford to take fewer shirtless selfies. And yes, he could calm down on track a bit.

But as a “Paul Tracy-in-training” badass who people can either love or love to hate, Karam is perfect. And desperately needed.

Peacock to stream all Supercross and Motocross races in 2023, plus inaugural SuperMotocross Championship

Peacock Supercross Motocross 2023
Feld Entertainment, Inc.
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NBC Sports and Feld Motor Sports announced that Peacock and the NBC family of networks will stream all 31 races of the combined Monster Energy Supercross, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and the newly created SuperMotocross World Championship beginning January 7, 2023 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California and ending October 14 in the place where Supercross was born: the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The combined series will create a 10-month calendar of events, making it one of the longest professional sports’ seasons in the United States.

The agreement is for multiple years. The season finale will air live on Peacock and the USA Network.

Peacock will present live coverage of all races, qualifying and heats across both series. The 31 total races will mark a record for the combined number of Supercross and Pro Motocross events that NBC Sports will present in a single season.

NBC, USA Network and CNBC will provide coverage of all races, including the SuperMotocross World Championship Playoffs and Final, through 2023 and beyond. For more information about the Peacock streaming service, click here.

“With our wide array of live and original motorsports offerings, Peacock is a natural home for Supercross and Pro Motocross races,” said Rick Cordella, Chief Commercial Officer, Peacock. “We’re looking forward to providing fans with an easily-accessible destination to find every race all season long, including the exciting finish with the newly formed SuperMotocross World Championship.”

MORE: A conversation about media rights created the new SuperMotocross World Championship Series

The NBC family of networks has been home to Supercross for the past several seasons and this is a continuation of that relationship. The media rights for both series expired at the end of 2022, which allowed Supercross and Motocross to combine their efforts.

In fact, it was that conversation that led to the formation of the SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

The SMX series will begin on September 9, 2023 after the conclusion of the Pro Motocross season. Points will accumulate from both series to seed the SMX championship, which creates a record number of unified races.

“The SuperMotocross World Championship adds a new dimension to the annual Supercross and Pro Motocross seasons that will result in crowning the ultimate World Champion,” said Stephen C. Yaros, SVP Global Media and Supercross for Feld Motor Sports. “We are thrilled to be extending our relationship with NBC Sports so our fans can watch all the racing action streaming live on Peacock and the option to also watch select rounds on NBC, USA Network and CNBC.”

Complete 2023 coverage schedules for Supercross, Pro Motocross and the SuperMotocross World Championship on Peacock, NBC, USA Network and CNBC will be announced in the near future.