INSIGHT: How Karam's riding the NASCAR learning curve

INSIGHT: How Karam's riding the NASCAR learning curve

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: How Karam's riding the NASCAR learning curve

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For some sports fans, a piece of game-used memorabilia can be hard to come by, or an expensive investment. In NASCAR however, it is not uncommon to see fans leave a racetrack with lug nuts in their pockets or a piece of sheet metal in their trunks. Parts of a car can often be found hanging in a sports bar or a driver’s man cave.

Sage Karam never knew that was a thing.

Excuse Karam’s ignorance. The 26-year-old does not come from a stock car background, and didn’t venture into the environment until this season, so it’s all a part of the learning process.

Jordan Anderson clued Karam in about it with a phone call about sending Karam the right side of the No. 31 Chevrolet from Bristol Motor Speedway. Karam has run Anderson’s car in three Xfinity Series races, and the 16th place finish in Karam’s first short-track race stands as his best result.

“I was really confused; I didn’t understand that was a thing because you never hear of that in IndyCar or anything like that,” Karam tells RACER. “I got it, and it’s just really cool to be able to have something from your first Bristol experience. And that was (Anderson’s) thing; he was like, ‘You should have something from your first race at Bristol.’”

Karam starts to laugh when continuing the story.

“I got a message from a kid on Instagram, and he said, ‘Hey, I bought a piece of your car from Bristol. I live in Nazareth; is there any chance you could sign it?’ I met him at Nazareth High School, and signed a piece of my car for this kid. So, I guess it’s a real serious thing that fans buy that stuff, which I think is really cool. I don’t really have a man cave yet at my house; I’m hoping next year we’re going to finish the basement, and I think it’d be something cool to put up on the wall somewhere.”

Initially signing on to run one race on a road course because it was an opportunity to try something he’d had been interested in, that one-off quickly turned into wanting to do more. Plus, Karam has felt embraced and welcomed by the NASCAR community from the start.

“I was a little nervous coming in, because I didn’t know how I was going to be perceived, because it is two different worlds,” Karam says of open-wheel and NASCAR. “I didn’t really know many people, either. Doing these races and meeting some other drivers at driver introductions, everyone has been super-nice to me. NASCAR has been great to me too, with making things easy for me and learning, and making this positive experience for me.”

Karam’s NASCAR debut was August 14 with an impressive run on the Indianapolis road course. Steady progression throughout the afternoon led to him mixing it up with some of the best drivers in the series, but a late electrical issue sent him to the garage early. He finished 26th.

After his Bristol start, Karam returned for the Charlotte Roval race, where he again earned attention for a strong run. But frantic action at the end and a 30-second penalty for not stopping when officials deemed he cut the chicane on the last lap relegated him to a 25th-place finish.

Results aside, Karam and the team are pleased with how his transition has gone. Anderson being a driver himself is helpful for Karam, giving him someone relatable to lean on.

“He can break it down for me in a language that I understand as a race car driver, and I feel like that’s been probably the biggest help for me,” Karam says.

Part of the adjustment has been getting used to the aggressive nature of the racing; something that struck Karam from his first race at Indy. Ironically, Karam thought the transition would be easier on the road course side, but admits he’s felt more comfortable earlier on the oval than the left and right circuits.

Karam will make another Xfinity Series start in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7. But first comes this weekend, when Karam will make his Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway for Anderson’s team.

Karam expects it to be the trickier of the two races for him, never having been to Martinsville or sitting in a truck before. There will not be much time to learn while trying to avoid getting lapped early.

Karam admits there has been a lot to wrap his head around as he transitions to stock cars, but there have also been some pleasant surprises – including the reception he’s received from other drivers. Image by Rusty Jarrett/Motorsport Images

When it comes to Phoenix, Karam at least has experience in the Xfinity car, and he won’t feel completely lost. Plus, there will be practice and qualifying that weekend.

“The expectation (this year) with me has kind of been low, because there are not many people that do make that transition from open-wheel to stock cars, and it’s hard to expect that you’re going to jump in it and be running for wins immediately,” says Karam. “So, the expectations have been middle of the ground, or even lower. And when you’re doing that, the pressure is not as much, so you can go out and learn and have fun and drive. That’s another thing I’ve really enjoyed.”

An experienced open-wheel and sports car driver, Karam is open to racing anything at this point. He’s very interested in the Chili Bowl, which led to recent time in a micro sprint on a Pennsylvania dirt oval.

However, Karam, who’s made 24 starts in the NTT IndyCar Series since 2014, isn’t ready to give up on running the Indianapolis 500.

“I’ve been racing a lot of stuff; I’m doing the rally stuff as well,” Karam says. “The most important thing for me is trying to get something locked up in a more full-time capacity, but I would still want to experience and drive other things. I want to be racing more than not.”

Even in NASCAR. Looking ahead, Karam’s interest has spiked enough to where there are talks of his running stock cars on a more week-in and week-out basis. Trucks and Xfinity are on the radar – he says he’s not ready for anything full-time in the Cup Series just yet.

“I want to do it right,” Karam says. “I want to learn and get up to speed the proper way.”

From the learning process (sheet metal and all) to the reception he’s received, Karam is getting more out of NASCAR than he thought.

“I didn’t really think anything of it leading up to (my first start) and after the race as far as, am I going to keep rolling or anything like that,” Karam says. “Then I did the race, and I really enjoyed it, and one conversation led to another, and then we signed up to do Bristol. That one went really well, and we signed up to do another one. It’s been more than what I expected, and I’m really enjoying it. I really am.

“It’s a really fun type of racing with these guys. I love that aggressive style of racing, and the two-wide restarts and stuff like that. That’s what a driver lives for – being able to mix it up on restarts. It’s been a breath of fresh air for me, too, because I’ve been doing one or two races a season, so to be racing more feels really cool. I haven’t had that experience in a long time.

“For me, it’s been something that I’m taking very seriously, and something I’m definitely considering heavily on pursuing for next year.”

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