May 27, 2014, 11:56 AM EDT
Ties are not necessarily popular, but in some instances, they work.
Some Barclays Premier League matches and NHL hockey games are so hard fought by both squads that for one side to emerge ahead of the other doesn’t do justice to the other. After regulation and overtime, sometimes, draws happen.
And last night, a draw should have happened when it came to voting for the 2014 Sunoco Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, because two first-year drivers performed extraordinarily this month under vastly different circumstances.
They are, of course, Kurt Busch and Sage Karam. While Busch captured the award, and justifiably, Karam’s efforts deserved a similar level of recognition.
Busch, now 35, has spent the last 15 years growing and developing in NASCAR. He’s won races, a Sprint Cup Series championship, then fallen out of favor with two of the sport’s most elite teams and performed an incredible career comeback after two years in the wilderness.
Karam, 19, was all of 5 years old when Busch started his first Sprint Cup race in 2000. But since he was 8, Karam and his family went to the mecca of open-wheel racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, dreaming of the day when he’d have the chance to race in the ‘500.
Busch enjoyed sampling whatever he could get his hands on away from Cup – Michel Jourdain’s Champ Car in 2003, an NHRA Pro Stock car and an Australian V8 Supercar to name a few.
Karam progressed through the traditional Mazda Road to Indy ladder, winning championships in USF2000 and Indy Lights, and winning races in Star Mazda.
Together, they arrived at this year’s Indianapolis 500 both with rookie status, but with completely different agendas and operations to work with.
For Busch, a preliminary test in 2013 with Andretti Autosport was the first step toward a debut that could serve as a major media and marketing storyline.
For Karam, his 2013 offseason was one of trying everything he could to graduate to a full-time ride in IndyCar through the efforts of his family, his management and his support team. While that didn’t occur, he did catch the eye of Chip Ganassi, who signed him to a developmental driver contract.
Karam dazzled in two sports car starts at Daytona and Sebring, drawing praise from Ganassi and his pair of Target-backed Indy 500 winners and series champions, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.
Ultimately Karam was able to put a deal together, in a one-off Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing Chevrolet that, while CGR-assisted, was almost entirely DRR-crewed. The car was the embodiment of the power of partnerships.
Karam had four unofficial teammates at CGR, plus CGR advisor Dario Franchitti; Busch had four actual teammates at Andretti Autosport.
Busch learned methodically; Karam learned rapidly and largely on his own, in the team’s first IndyCar start in a year.
They both had their one “Welcome to Indy, rookie,” moment.
Busch whacked the Turn 2 wall on the Monday before the race, and his No. 26 Suretone Entertainment Honda was trashed, requiring a backup car.
Karam had his on Carb Day when he lost it exiting Turn 4, but made an absolutely wicked save to hang onto his No. 22 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records/Brantley Gilbert Chevrolet from hitting either the inside retaining wall or the pit wall.
Karam starred during the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Competition, making it to the finals and stirring up the crowd with his celebrations.
In the race, both drove like veterans in avoiding the pitfalls that plagued so many others.
Karam made passes you wouldn’t expect many a veteran to try; Busch had catlike reflexes to avoid flying debris on two instances.
While Busch was a first-timer on Sunday in IndyCar, Karam was a rookie. So giving just Busch the Rookie of the Year title doesn’t do justice to Karam’s effort all month.
It also opens up the Pandora’s Box where if a NASCAR driver comes into the Indianapolis 500 and does as well as Busch does, they could take the ROTY title almost by default.
What does that say for young drivers who come through the open-wheel ladder, traditionally, that they then have to battle NASCAR drivers to get the recognition for being the best standard first-timer at IndyCar’s most prestigious race?
Was Busch impressive all month? No question. But Karam’s efforts deserve the plaudits, as well.
We have a precedent for this, too, because in 2002 Alex Barron was the top finishing first-year driver in fourth, and Tomas Scheckter, who led the most laps, was the star attraction of the race before crashing off Turn 4. Both were awarded the co-ROTY honors.
In 2014, Busch was your top finisher, and Karam was the first-year star attraction.
But the voters got it wrong. Karam should have gotten a piece of the pie, as well.
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