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Karam: “I’m so excited to be back at Indy”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his first entry, filed after a weekend in the commentary booth and before today’s first full day of practice. He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Hi everyone, this is Sage Karam from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the “greatest race track in the world.”

It feels so good to come back for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The atmosphere around IMS this year is off the charts, dripping with excitement for the 100th race. The fans are very fired up, as is shown by every reserved seat being sold for the May 29 “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

I know the drivers, teams and sponsors are extremely excited for this month too.

I’ll be driving the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing team from right here in Indianapolis. Dennis Reinbold’s family has been involved in the Indy 500 since 1927 when his grandfather, Floyd “Pop” Dreyer, was a mechanic on the Duesenberg. Now that is some history at IMS.

GasMonkey

This will be my third time in the Indy 500 and, at age 21, I’ll be the youngest driver in the 33-driver field for this 200-lap classic. It’s such a thrill to back to Indy each year. It’s the biggest race in the world, and I want to continue racing at this great track for many years to come.

In my rookie race (2014), I drove for the same team as this year; the DRR-Kingdom team is very experienced at Indy. In that first race, I started 31st and drove up to sixth in the middle of the race. I was definitely a rookie, but I tried to be smooth; all the while, the crew kept talking to me about being patient.

Unfortunately, we got caught out on a yellow flag period and we were slotted back to 24th. But we fought our way back up to ninth at the checkered flag. It was a good rookie performance and I won the “Hard Charger Award” that year.

Last year, it was a very short race for me with Chip Ganassi Racing. I was hit in the first turn on the first lap and was out of the race. It was very frustrating after spending all month preparing for the 500-mile race.

Now, I’m back with the crew from my rookie performance, and I know these guys very well. So it’s like I’ve come back home and am ready to perform on May 29.

I think I can win, and there are no doubters on this team. It’s possible the 500 will be my only IndyCar race this year, so I want to make the most of this opportunity.

Last year, I learned so much with the Ganassi squad and working with three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti. Dario helped me take some big steps, inside and outside of the car.

You learn about how to make time for all your obligations, such as media, training, studying videotape and working in the engineering office. When things got tough, Dario would talk to me about his first year in the sport – he had some tough times as well – and offered me life-lessons about driving, racing and the world.

I can’t thank Dario enough for the guidance last year. I still think about what Dario told me last year. In 2015, I ran 12 IndyCar races and it was a steep learning curve.

But I believe I have matured a great deal from the 2015 season, and I’m ready to put in a solid two weeks before the 100th Indy 500.

In fact, in the winter, I moved from Indianapolis back to my hometown, Nazareth, Pa. Yes, the same as the Andrettis. My father, Jody, was Michael’s trainer when Michael drove in Indy cars and I got the racing bug at age 4 in go-kartings from the Andrettis.

This winter I trained with my dad, and assisted him with his high school wrestling team. In fact, we had a state champion for the first time at the high school. So we are very proud of that fact.

I’m at my best when I train with my dad, and I wanted to get back to that situation. When I was living in Indianapolis I didn’t know many people, didn’t do so much off-the-track, and eventually got bored with the solitude. Now, I’m returning to the Indy 500 in the best shape of my life (at 163 pounds).

I hope to have a strong and productive week of practice at Indy and prepare for this weekend’s qualifications. The goal is to be in the top nine on Saturday and then run for the pole on Sunday.

I’m so excited to be back at Indy. And I’m thankful for the opportunity and chance this team has given me to make it happen.



IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500