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Sage Karam returns to Pocono, site of crash last year

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LONG POND, Pa. (AP) Sage Karam isn’t competing this year at Pocono Raceway. It’s been a year since a freak accident claimed the life of fellow driver Justin Wilson.

Karam was leading the IndyCar race a year ago at the 2.5-mile track in rural Pennsylvania when he spun and crashed in the closing laps. Wilson was fatally struck in the helmet by debris from Karam’s car. The 37-year-old Englishman died the next day.

For the 21-year-old Karam, it’s not so easy to understand the accident was a tragedy out of his control.

“It’s different for me,” Karam said at the racetrack, where Union Jacks flying at half-staff in honor of Wilson. “I’m not racing here this year. If I was racing, going around the track would give me some weird feelings. I know I’m here in the spot that changed my life forever.”

Karam lost his ride with Chip Ganassi after last season because of sponsorship difficulties. He’s raced in the IndyCar Series once this year – in the Indianapolis 500 in a one-off ride with Dreyer & Reinbold – and wrecked for the second straight year after briefly leading the race.

Wilson’s younger brother, Stefan, also ran the 500, a tribute to his brother and part of the healing process for both families.

“Sage and I speak a lot about Justin,” said Karam’s dad, Jody, his voice tinged with emotion. “I think as much as Sage suffered and our family feels the pain of what happened, we always keep in the back of our minds that family is suffering more.

“As a family, we’ve supported Sage and made all the right moves. I think he’s doing all the right things to get back to where he needs to be mentally and emotionally.”

Wilson’s widow and two young girls attended the Indy 500, but they won’t be at Pocono. The memory of that tragic day remains nevertheless, evidenced by the “JW” painted on the track at the finish line.

Karam, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, knows there’s another step to take on the track.

“Every time I think about IndyCar racing, the biggest memory in my mind is that day,” he said. “I see flashbacks in Turn 1. I feel like I need to do it for myself, go through Turn 1 again flat out. I think that would be the last part of it.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.