By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – Sage Karam had an eventful Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not only he had to make the 33-car field, he had a good view of Simon Pagenaud’s mechanical problems.
Karam had began the Month of May showing good speed where he even end up in the top-10 standings. Like his competitors starting on the final row next Sunday, Fast Friday and qualifying proved to be a struggle. As a result of missing the top-30 Saturday, Karam had to qualify again and make the 11th and final row the next day.
For the veteran racer, Karam was the fastest out of the five drivers in the Last Row Shootout and will roll off 31st. His four-lap average of 229.156 mph was good enough to make his eighth Indy 500.
Previously, Karam has started in the last row three times, all in 31st. Next Sunday’s 105th Indianapolis 500 will be his fourth but only the second time (2019) he had to make the field. The other two times (2011 and 2020) only had 33 cars entered, thus bumping didn’t took place.
Knowing it wasn’t his first bumping rodeo, Karam knew what he was expecting and wasn’t as nervous. However, the confidence level wasn’t there compared to two years ago. Stress levels were apparent, especially when 2018 Indy 500 champion Will Power and Simona De Silvestro were also trying to make the field. Both drivers have Team Penske ties, so Karam’s focus was on beating AJ Foyt Racing’s Charlie Kimball.
“The first time, I had a decent car but not this time,” said Karam during Sunday’s press conference. “I was up against Will and Simona, they’re probably going to find speed over time. I had to probably beat Charlie and I know they made a bunch of changes (Saturday night).
“They put a lot of JR (Hildebrand’s) stuff on the car to go quicker. I had no idea what everybody was going to be able to run. I just knew what we kind of had but I still didn’t know what we could run,” Karam added.
“That’s why I was kind of stress, but thankfully we were able to put a pretty good Lap 1 and Lap 2 was pretty decent. Then we started to fall off. I think because of the first two were good, we were able to fall off a bit and be safe.”
At 26 years old, Karam doesn’t know why he constantly puts pressure on himself at Indianapolis. If anything, now that he’s in the race, he assured that his No. 24 Chevrolet will be solid for the 200-lap odyssey.
“I’m going to have grey hair before I’m 30. I gotta stop that and get it in the first day,” said Karam. “Dreyer & Reinbold did a great job prepping the car for the whole month. The race car is definitely better than the qualifying car. It felt really good in traffic.”
During the two-hour post-qualifying practice session, Karam ran 69 laps with his personal best of 222.953 mph on his 23rd. That speed was good enough to be 18th fastest. While progress was certainly made, it was what happened in the first half hour that made his session noteworthy.
While battling traffic, Pagenaud’s No. 22 Chevrolet went up in smoke right in front of Karam. When asked if sheer instinct or his spotter was key on making sure he doesn’t get caught up into problems.
“That was so abrupt. I don’t know what happened, but something broke. It happens so quickly and we were kind of going into Turn 1,” Karam on Pagenaud’s woes. “During practice, there’s so much checking up and people trying to fall back in line. It was one of those things and somebody fell in line.
“I was coming up on Simon pretty quickly, so I was already checking up. Then right where I got a car width away from him, I saw flames and my whole windscreen was covered with oil.
“I got on the radio and said, ‘oh shit!’ They thought I was crashing because it went yellow right away. I couldn’t see anything and had no idea what was going on. That was pretty abrupt.”
Karam’s rest of his afternoon went scot free and will have one more shot on getting multiple runs on Carb Day. Live coverage begins at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and Peacock.