By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for Sage Karam in his second season running a limited schedule for Alpha Prime Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. However, the former open-wheel driver believes he has a chance this week to turn heads and prove his worth in the stock-car world.
For the first time in NASCAR 75-year history, the top-two national series will attempt to conquer the streets of Downtown Chicago in a course spanning 2.2 miles and 12 turns.
While Karam has yet to place above 31st through four starts this season, he exudes confidence going into the Loop 121. Unlike most all drivers in the Xfinity field, the 28-year-old boasts an abundance of street-course racing experience, which will likely be a premium in order to execute a successful day in the Windy City.
Between the NTT IndyCar Series, Indy NXT Series (formerly Indy Lights), and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Karam has made nine street-course starts in four different cities – with success.
During his championship-winning season running Indy Lights in 2013, Karam was able to score career-best third-place outings at the Streets of St. Petersburg and the Long Beach Street Circuit. He also had a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Raceway at Belle Isle, Exhibition Place (Toronto, Ontario) and Long Beach in both Indy Lights and IMSA.
“I think I’ll be one of the only few guys that has street-course racing experience from the IndyCar side,” Karam told Kickin’ the Tires. “I feel like that’s a slight advantage going into Chicago for me, so I’ll be looking forward to it.
“When I was in the IndyCar world, street-course racing was my favorite out of everything I did. When you can go to a city like Chicago with that many people and put a race right in the middle of it, that’s really cool. You get that really good vibe and energy, because it’s almost like a big party, but also a sporting event in one.”
In his experience, Karam believes the Chicago Street Course will play out in one-of-two ways: tame, or with a lot of torn up cars. Either way, he feels he’s comfortable enough with the foreign-style of racing to NASCAR to where he can excel on Saturday.
But even with a presumed leg up on the competition, Karam is aware nothing will come easy to him.
Since making the transition from IndyCar to NASCAR in 2021, the Pennsylvania-born driver has struggled to find consistency. Although the results don’t show it, speed has been in there in moderation for Karam at Alpha Prime both in 2023 and in his brief stint with the team owned by Tommy Joe Martins.
Last year, Karam’s Xfinity career hit a high point when he placed fifth at Daytona International Speedway and scored a total of five top-20 finishes. Collectively, in 17 starts, the former open-wheel driver has six top 20s and has also made starts for Jordan Anderson Racing and Our Motorsports.
While he’s been able to muster respectable showings with middle-of-the-pack equipment (when he isn’t succumbing to mechanical issues), Karam points to consistent seat time as to what’s prevented him from taking the next step in his NASCAR career.
“When you can get some consistency, I feel like that really is a benefit,” Karam said. “We’ve kind of had the speed, but not the results. As far as qualifying speed and race pace, I’ve been pretty pleased with it. At Sonoma (Raceway), we were probably running between 10th and 15th-place lap times all day long.
“A lot of the ovals I go to on the NASCAR schedule, I didn’t go to on the IndyCar schedule, so they’re brand new to me. But the road courses … I feel comfortable going to those. There’s not a lot of time to learn the places in practice and then going right into qualifying, but it’s been going smoothly so far. We just have to finish the weekends off strong and keep pushing.”
With six more races with Alpha Prime scheduled for Karam, he’s determined to make the most of the opportunities available to him, and committed as ever to land a full-time Xfinity ride in 2024.
That all begins with a strong showing at the Chicago Street Course in the Loop 121 on July 1 at 5 p.m. ET on USA Network.