Sage Karam ready to tackle NASCAR in his next chapter


Sage Karam has spent time behind the wheel of just about any style of race car you can think of.

From IndyCar and rallycross to dirt micro sprints and sports cars, Karam has driven it all.

The 27-year-old is turning his attention to NASCAR. After making four Xfinity Series starts and one Truck Series start in 2021, Karam makes his Xfinity season debut Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway driving the No. 44 Chevrolet for Alpha Prime Racing with sponsorship from The Driveway Company.

Karam has competed in each of the last eight Indianapolis 500s, seven of which came with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. With Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015, Karam made 12 IndyCar starts and earned a career-best third-place result at Iowa Raceway.

After 24 IndyCar starts, 17 sports car races and successful stints in Nitro Rallycross, why make the switch to pursue stock-car racing now? The catalyst was his seventh-place finish in last year’s Indy 500, his best career finish in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“After that, I kind of got put back on some radars that I think I went missing on the last few years,” Karam told NBC Sports this week.

Those radars included some in NASCAR, an avenue Karam had yet to explore.

Jordan Anderson Racing was in the midst of its inaugural season at the Xfinity level. With the series due to compete the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Karam became a target for the team’s No. 31 Chevrolet. Karam finished fifth in Stage 1 in his series debut and saw his day end early due to an electrical issue, but the team was impressed with his pace.

Suddenly, one race became two races and two races grew to four. In all, Karam made starts at Indy, Bristol, the Charlotte Roval and Phoenix. His truck start also came in Anderson’s No. 3 Chevrolet at Martinsville.

Bristol was where Karam made his biggest impression — to other team owners and even himself. After starting 32nd with no practice or qualifying, Karam finished 16th in his short-track debut, one lap down but with a clean car.

His performance was enough to catch the eye of long-time team owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Childress.

“After Bristol, I was standing in the hauler and I was changing, and I got a knock on the door,” Karam recalled. “I opened it up and it was Richard Childress. And he just wanted to say, ‘Hey, man, just wanted to congratulate you on your run tonight. That was really, really cool to see a guy come over on one of the hardest tracks and do as well as you did. That’s not easy.’

“And for a guy like that to notice that — and it’s only a 16th-place run at Bristol. But I think what people see is that it’s a huge step, and when you can have runs like that, that’s pretty cool.”

Planting roots in racing

Karam grew up in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, a Lehigh Valley town famous for its legendary racing residents, the Andrettis.

His father, Jody, is a high school wrestling coach who spent 26 years heading Liberty (Bethlehem) High School’s team with 362 matches won in that span and one state champion. After stepping away in 2019, Jody Karam returned to his alma mater at Easton High School to coach its wrestling program in 2020.

The elder Karam moved his family from Easton to Nazareth in 1999, when Sage was 4 years old, and wound up just down the street from the Andretti property. With that move came a dirt oval in the family’s yard for the young Karam to race around. Jody Karam quickly became good friends with Michael Andretti and at one point became his personal trainer.

“My whole childhood was basically spent up at the Andretti house,” Sage Karam said. “I had more dinners there than at our own house growing up, so I was just kind of surrounded by the racing world.”

Karam got his first go-kart at age 5. While Michael Andretti was busy running a full-time IndyCar schedule, Jody Karam spent weekends driving Sage and Marco Andretti to Oakland Valley Raceway Park in Upstate New York to compete regularly.

Fast forward a decade. Karam, 15, is in the midst of a rapid, chaotic ascent through the open-wheel racing ranks. His first stop through Skip Barber cars led him to US F2000 with Andretti Autosport in 2010, winning nine of 12 races and the national title, which propelled him to the Star Mazda Championship in 2011 and 2012, where he stuck with Andretti.

The next year brought further success. Karam rocketed through the ranks, earning a full-time ride in Indy Lights at age 18 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He won three races and finished on the podium nine times in 12 races.

Wrestling with reality

Karam’s career reached a fever pitch in 2015.

After spending the 2014 season making four Daytona Prototype starts for Chip Ganassi Racing and his Indy 500 debut for Dreyer & Reinbolt, Ganassi thrust Karam into the No. 8 car for 12 races in the 2015 IndyCar season.

Karam was immediately fast but also caught a quick reputation for his aggression, notably angering Ed Carpenter en route to Karam’s first podium finish, a third-place effort at Iowa Speedway.

Then came Aug. 23, 2015, the day and race that changed Karam’s life at Pocono Raceway, just 30 miles northwest of his hometown.

Leading with 21 laps to go, Karam’s car got loose and snapped sideways in the middle of Turn 1. Karam careened into the outside wall, sending debris scattering along the racetrack.

One of those pieces of debris was the nosecone of his car, which struck driver Justin Wilson in the head. At a nearby hospital, Wilson died the next day as the result of the traumatic head injury he suffered.

Karam, who suffered a bruised foot in the crash, fell into a deep depression in the aftermath of the accident, often questioning what might have happened if he hadn’t spun.

His solace, he recalled this week, was wrestling. Karam, then 20, was only a year removed from graduating from Nazareth High School and his father was still coaching at Liberty. When the high school season began, Karam joined his father at practices as a volunteer coach to help other student-athletes.

“I went through a pretty dark spot in life and didn’t really come out of my house all that much. And the one reason I did end up coming out of my house was when wrestling season started,” Karam said. “Wrestling was a way for me to get out of the house, put a smile on my face, and kind of block out what was going on elsewhere at the time. It really did kind of progress my life and get me through kind of one of those darker times in my life, so I owe wrestling a lot.”

Karam continues to volunteer his time at Easton High School, where his father now coaches. Karam was wearing an Easton Wrestling T-shirt during his conversation with NBC Sports.

What’s next?

After five years without a definitive, full-time racing schedule, Karam wants more out of racing.

His path back to the track after 2015 was difficult but aided by Dennis Reinbolt, owner of Dreyer & Reinbolt Racing, without whom Karam says he wouldn’t be racing at all. DRR has fielded Karam in every Indy 500 since 2016 as well as cars in the Nitro Rallycross.

In January, Karam was announced to make select Xfinity Series starts for Alpha Prime Racing. Karam told NBC Sports his target is “eight to 12 races” driving the program’s Nos. 44 and 45 Chevrolets.

“That would be a great schedule for me, a great year for me,” he said. “And that would give me a little bit of variety of doing some superspeedway racing, mile-and-a-half (tracks), road courses, short-track racing. Just knocking everything off the checklist and seeing what I can do on different types of tracks.”

Karam is set to compete in his ninth Indianapolis 500 this May with DRR, alongside teammate Santino Ferrucci, who made seven Xfinity starts for Sam Hunt Racing in 2021. Karam is still good friends with many drivers in the IndyCar paddock and enjoys running open-wheel cars. If an opportunity there presented itself, Karam would be interested in pursuing it.

But for now, his eyes are set on NASCAR.

“I think for me, the better opportunity right now is to go chase NASCAR and try to get full-time in the Xfinity Series next year, or even (a) Truck Series full-season effort,” Karam said. “I want to do something at a full-time level, and I haven’t done that in a long, long time. I want to learn, and I want to be able to prove myself and I want to do it right.”

There is one other item on Karam’s radar: another chance to race at Pocono Raceway.

“Pocono was obviously really hard, but I think one of the main things I want to do is go race Pocono again,” Karam said. “That might be a possibility this year for me to go do that in an Xfinity car. And if I could do that, I think that’d be really special for me in the way of just getting through that last part of the healing process I needed to get through.”

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.