When Sage Karam entered the Xfinity Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in 2021, it was supposed to be a one-off experience. After all, he was embedded in the NTT IndyCar Series community. 

Karam followed his debut with a solid outing at Bristol Motor Speedway and knew it was time to shift his focus to NASCAR. On that September 2021 evening, running for Jordan Anderson Racing, Karam finished 16th at a half-mile bullring that he never competed at. 

“I would say Bristol was the total turning point of, ‘I can do this. It‘s going to be tough, but I can do it and whatever I‘ve got to do to make it happen,‘” Karam recalled thinking. “That‘s been the grind ever since then, just trying to get as much experience and seat time that I possibly could.”

Karam has tried to get as much experience as possible at various styles of tracks. He earned his first top-five finish last summer at Daytona International Speedway in an attrition-filled race. He was hoping that would turn into a full season in 2023, but thus far, he‘s competed in just nine races and failed to qualify at Nashville Superspeedway after an incident in qualifying.

As Karam states, he would rather push too hard than not go hard enough. Sometimes, that has bitten him. 

“Qualifying has been my Achilles‘ heel and I‘ve been trying to learn that as much as I can,” Karam said after having qualifying crashes at Nashville and Darlington Raceway. “It‘s hard when you only have a 20-minute practice. Other than that, once I get into the race, after the first stage I figure everything out. It‘s just seat time.”

Four of the seven races Karam has competed for Alpha Prime Racing in 2023 have resulted in DNFs — all mechanical. He‘s coming off a 15th-place finish at Indianapolis, one week after putting an MBM Motorsports entry in the top 25 for the first time this season at the high-speed Michigan International Speedway. Prior to that, he had a standout run at Road America, running the No. 24 Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing.

Having equipment that strong served as a bit of a tease for Karam. 

“I knew this was a car that you should be running top 10 in,” Karam said of his run with SHR. “I‘ve run top 10 before, but not consistently. It‘s different going in with that mentality of we‘re here to compete for something big now and had to be on it.

“It‘s something I‘ve been waiting for, for a long time trying to prove people to just give me a shot. I finally got a shot, so I took full advantage of it and hopefully, I can do some more of it.”

Plenty of praise has been sent Karam‘s way for how he raced at Road America. At one point on the overtime restart, he was leading with a realistic shot of winning. He exited a corner wide and slipped in the grass, dropping to fourth in the final rundown. 

“I don‘t know if anything big will come down the road or not, but it can‘t hurt,” Karam said of Road America. “My goal is to be full time in Xfinity next year. I feel like I‘ve done everything I‘ve been trying to show in order to get that goal accomplished. We need a few more things to fall in line and I think we have a good shot of making it happen.”

Tommy Joe Martins, co-owner of Alpha Prime, has expressed to Karam that he should try looking to find opportunities with smaller teams to gain experience before making the jump. Martins believes the 28-year-old is an elite talent on road courses, but needs to get more exposure to oval racing in a stock car. 

“It‘s not that he doesn‘t have the talent for the oval track stuff, but it‘s a feel,” Martins said. “That‘s what he talked to us about. We ended up missing a race at Nashville, his idea of, ‘What is the feel of driving really aggressively versus driving a nice, easy lap.‘ I think he has to make laps to get that rhythm of where that line is. He‘s not going to do that unless he‘s in a car a lot.”

Since competing at Sonoma Raceway in June, Karam has been more visible in the NASCAR garage, running six of the past nine races. That allows him to get more familiar with the grind that it takes to make it in NASCAR. That has only helped him. 

When Karam initially made the jump, he felt like he was an “open-wheel outsider.” He hardly knew anybody in the garage, and it was hard for him to start a conversation. Now, he‘s confident verbalizing with people out of the racecar, in turn helping him potentially get more opportunities. 

“I feel like I‘m more on the radar now than I‘ve ever been in the NASCAR world,” Karam said. “That comes with conversations with people that you want to have conversations with. I feel like I have a better bond with a lot of the drivers. The last couple of years, they didn‘t really — not accept me — but I don‘t know if they thought I was fully serious about going to the NASCAR world and trying to stay there and make it my home. 

“I feel like [the drivers] have accepted me a little more in that I‘m here to stay and want to be here. I‘ve mixed it up with some really good drivers and have raced respectfully, and I think they‘ve seen that.”

Originally, open-wheel was where Karam‘s heart was. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2013, winning a quarter of the races on the schedule. He spent nine years chasing a full-time ride, but ran just 25 races — including nine starts in the Indianapolis 500 — with nearly half of those coming in 2015 alone. Instead of getting stagnant, moving to NASCAR allowed him to chase rides at all three of NASCAR‘s national touring series. That‘s encouraging for him. 

“I was in IndyCar for so long and I tried for so many years to get full time and it just wasn‘t happening,” he said. “I couldn‘t find the funding to go full time. I could get a little bit of funding, but not enough and it wasn‘t moving the needle.

“I feel like with NASCAR, there were so many opportunities. Whether you go run a truck, an Xfinity car, there are so many different options and different budget levels. In IndyCar, it‘s 20 something cars and a lot of these guys have been there forever. It‘s hard to find an open seat and not easy to show up to a team and even have some cash and be like, ‘Let‘s add another car.‘

“Once I started doing decent with [NASCAR], I started to love it. The racing itself is so much fun. I feel like it‘s more of my style of racing and it‘s starting to click and I‘m enjoying it.”

Karam has three confirmed races remaining on his 2023 schedule with Alpha Prime, beginning this weekend at Watkins Glen International. After that, he will compete at Bristol and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

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