Listening to the No. 31 team radio, it was clear that Sage Karam was in a whole new world. Karam, an open-wheel driver, made his NASCAR debut Saturday afternoon in the Xfinity Series race with Jordan Anderson Racing, and all day he went through a stock car learning curve.
From the time he fired the engine, Karam was told how NASCAR racing worked. In fact, spotter Steve Barkdoll and others positioned around the course never stopped talking. It was explained that Karam would come down pit road to set his tachometer for pit road speed and that he couldn’t change lanes before the start/finish line on the start and restarts.
“They talked a lot, and that’s something different from IndyCar. They don’t talk as much in the Indy cars,” Karam told RACER. “You can see more in the IndyCar mirrors. In these cars, you can’t see as much, so you have to rely more on the spotters and yeah, they were talking a lot.
“It was hard. I was concentrating a lot on what they were saying, where other cars were but also concentrating on driving because it was just something so new to me. I came into this race with like 15 laps under my belt, and I wish I had one more practice before qualifying or the race. I felt so much better there through the middle of the race.”
It took half the 62-lap race for Karam to feel comfortable. Karam qualified 18th and was running 10th on lap six. He finished the first stage in fifth place. That was after Karam restarted on the front row with two laps to go, the team having kept him on track to pick up track position before he experienced his first NASCAR pit stop.
Karam finished the second stage in 24th place after pitting before a caution came out that ended the stage under yellow. From there, Karam knew to be cognizant of his tires and how drivers were dive-bombing into the corners.
His radio communication also got more animated.
“I’ve got (expletives) dive-bombing me; I don’t know what to do,” was one transmission.
“I’m getting my a** kicked,” was another.
Then before a restart in the final stage, “I don’t know if they (the competition) could get any more desperate. They were like a high school boy on prom night.”
Karam was issued a speeding penalty before the final restart, where he would have been eighth but had to drop to the rear. However, he quickly moved to the 12th position on the “craziest restart of my life” and thought he was sitting pretty for a potential top-10 finish. Instead, Justin Allgaier sent Karam wide, and he felt outside the top 15.
“(Allgaier) just didn’t hit the brakes, plain and simple; he didn’t hit the brakes,” Karam said. “I don’t know the ins and outs of what’s legal, what’s not, but that was totally intentional from what I saw. I guess I just have to learn and talk to people and see how to handle situations like that.”
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) August 14, 2021
After losing his track position, Karam reported the engine was cutting in and out. He tried to nurse it to the finish before losing all power with four laps to go and pulling into the garage. Karam finished 26th.
“It was shaping up to be a really good day for us,” he said. “I got a penalty … but I don’t know how I was speeding. I stayed in the green lights the whole time, like everyone told me. It’s just so new to me, everything, learning, and learning, and learning. I had a lot of fun.
“I had Allgaier send me off the track, so I learned how that’s done, I guess. I was on the receiving end, though, so that wasn’t fun. But that’s just how it is around here. These guys, they get their elbows out, and they go bumper to bumper, so I guess it’s just something I have to learn to drive with. But I had a lot of fun. Thanks to Jordan Anderson Racing for giving me the opportunity. Montage Mountain Resorts – to have a local company from Scranton, Pennsylvania, on board and have people out here supporting me, that means a lot to me.
“I’m just bummed because this was kind of like a tryout. You always want to do as well as you can on these one-off deals, and I thought I was shaped up for a really, really good result.”
After experiencing the craziness of something new, Karam would love to get another shot in the future.
“I’ve driven a lot of cars in my career, and I thought something would match up a little bit, but it just didn’t,” Karam said. “This was something completely new to me. Learned a lot. There was just so much to do with longer brake zones, heavy brakes, just babying it. When you think you’re babying it … you’re still overdriving it, and you have to keep babying it, and I’m just not used to that. I rely a lot on downforce in IndyCar, and we don’t have any here. So, it was a different beast.
“But I’ll tell you what, I had a lot of fun, and I’d love to do it again.”