Don’t Bet Against Sage Karam
Normally, the Thanksgiving weekend is a dead time for news to break from the Verizon IndyCar Series. That was pretty much the case this past weekend, except for one little item that probably merits a mention; Sage Karam’s contract was not renewed at Chip Ganassi Racing for 2016.
That news didn’t really surprise or alarm me at this point. It was still November when the news came out. I’m reading it not that Karam lost his ride, but that it was a nice gesture on Ganassi’s part to allow Karam to pursue other rides elsewhere, in case funding could not be found before the season started.
I’ve read some opinions that say that Ganassi doesn’t want Karam back and this was an easy out for Ganassi. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m taking this at face-value. I think that Ganassi does want the twenty year-old back in the Ganassi stable, but doesn’t want to do him a disservice by not allowing him to sign elsewhere should an opportunity present itself.
Whether this is a good thing or not, Sage Karam reminds me of Paul Tracy when he first surfaced at Team Penske at Michigan in 1991 in a Mobil 1 sponsored car painted up like a Marlboro livery, except blue instead of day-glo red. Tracy showed much promise, but lasted only three laps before breaking his leg when he clouted the wall on the front-stretch. The fully recovered Tracy drove in that season’s last two races, with a seventh at Nazareth being his best result.
The 1992 season saw Tracy drive in eleven of the sixteen races, much like Karam driving in twelve of the sixteen races of the 2015 season. Both drivers had some spectacular drives with good finishes, but both drivers also tore up a lot of equipment and ruffled the feathers of the established veterans.
Everyone remembers Ed Carpenter confronting Karam and berating him after the race at Iowa when Karam was racing Carpenter wheel to wheel on his way to a third-place finish. That was nothing compared to what Al Unser, Jr. did to Tracy after the Marlboro 500 at Michigan in 1992 (see below). It’s ironic to think that a year and a half later, they two were teammates at Marlboro Team Penske.
We all know that Tracy went on to win thirty races in his CART/Champ Car career, along with the 2003 Champ Car championship. We also know that he continued to tear up a lot of equipment along the way – much to the chagrin of Roger Penske, who was his car owner for eleven of those thirty wins.
Say what you will about Paul Tracy. Although I’m a big fan of Tracy in the broadcast booth, I was never a huge fan of his as a driver. He ran his mouth too much for my liking and he took out some of the drivers I was a fan of on numerous occasions. But he sure added a lot of excitement to the series and he adequately filled the role of the villain – something that the Verizon IndyCar Series is sorely in need of.
Sage Karam is very similar in nature to Tracy. I think he is loaded with talent, but sometimes he doesn’t exercise the best judgment. Karam is also just as brash as Tracy, albeit in a more subtle and polished way.
I would think that Karam is an easier sell to a sponsor than Tracy was. Karam is an American and seems to have movie-star good looks, or so some women have said. Tracy is Canadian and was never mistaken for Brad Pitt.
But Tracy’s results speak for themselves. He was a great driver and added a ton of excitement and intrigue to the series.
I’m betting that Sage Karam has the same type future in the series as Tracy. He’s very rough around the edges, but has a load of talent that can be honed and polished. I don’t see Ganassi’s announcement as any type of indictment on Karam’s skills or his abilities. Lord knows he brings a lot more to the table than Sebastian Saavedra, who shared the same seat in the No.8 Ganassi car with Karam in 2015.
My guess is that Karam will be a full-time driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016 and I would not be surprised if he is at Ganassi driving the No.8. If things do turn out that way, I think he will get his first win next season. I wouldn’t bet against it.