Question For Foyt: Conor Daly Or Sage Karam?

Now that Tony Kanaan has been confirmed for the No.14 car, we are awaiting a decision on who will drive the No.4 car that was piloted by Conor Daly this past season. On paper, Daly did not have a good season in that car. He finished eighteenth in points and finished last among drivers who competed in every race this season. By comparison Carlos Muñoz, who drove the No.14 car and is apparently already out at Foyt, finished sixteenth – just one point ahead of Charlie Kimball.

According to Robin Miller, Daly is still one of the two most likely candidates for the No.4 car for 2018. Sage Karam is the other. Who would you hire? That’s the question that will probably ultimately be answered by AJ Foyt himself. Curt Cavin indicated on Trackside last night that he seems to think that Muñoz may still be in the picture. I’m not so sure. I’ll go with Miller on this one.

Reportedly, Daly has two entities firmly in his corner – their longtime sponsor ABC Supply and Larry Foyt. But the elder Foyt seems to be less enthusiastic about Daly returning and may be favoring Karam at this point.

I know who I would hire, but I have an admitted bias. I don’t know who you would hire, but if I’m AJ Foyt – I have a lot of things to weigh before I make any decision.

Conor Daly is a known commodity to the team. After a disastrous start to this past season, Daly had a five-race stretch at the end of the season of three Top-Ten finishes that included a fifth-place finish at Gateway. It probably took the team that long to come to grips with the Chevy aero kit, after swapping over from Honda last offseason. I’m guessing it took the team that long to also get comfortable with Daly, after working with Jack Hawksworth for the past two seasons. Once they sorted things out, Daly performed better.

Word has it that ABC Supply really likes Conor Daly. His friendly and affable personality is probably welcomed when compared to the reserved Muñoz or the stoic Hawksworth. I imagine ABC Supply probably liked the always smiling Takuma Sato, but he moved on at the end of last season. Daly reportedly does an excellent job of chatting it up with all of the guests that ABC Supply brings to races, and they bring a big crowd to practically every race. Things like that go a long way with sponsors.

Still, AJ Foyt seems to have an interest in Sage Karam. Most owners would prefer a driver that you have to hold back, over one that you continually have to motivate to speed up. I’m not suggesting that Daly lacks motivation, but Karam has a more tangible history of spectacular moments in races. But those moments have a downside, especially for a small team that has an even smaller budget – those moments often lead to crashes.

Karam has never driven an entire IndyCar season, while Daly now has two full seasons under his belt. In 2015, Karam drove in twelve races for Chip Ganassi in the No.8 car, while Sebastian Saavedra drove the car in four races. He was not retained by Ganassi for the following season.

In a ten-race stretch from the 2015 Indianapolis 500 through to the 2016 race, Karam crashed out of five of them. For the twelve races he drove in for the 2015 season, he had an average finish of 15.83 with a best finish of third at Iowa, where Ed Carpenter confronted him on live TV for his over-aggressive driving. This after Karam had been put on a five-race probation earlier in the season by IndyCar.

Sage Karam has been a fan-favorite by many since his IndyCar debut – when he opened eyes with a ninth-place finish as a nineteen year-old in the 2014 Indianapolis 500. But what many people choose to ignore is that he has done little since, other than tear up a lot of equipment and make a lot of people mad along the way.

Some attribute his actions and behavior to youthful exuberance. I tend to chalk it up more to poor judgment. If you’re young and brash, you’d better be good. If you’re results show you’re not that good – you’d better be likeable. When AJ Foyt was that age, he was cocky and arrogant. But he had the talent and the results to back it up. Sage Karam is no AJ Foyt.

That’s why I don’t think that would be a good combination. Larry Foyt runs the team, but AJ is still very involved – some say more involved than he should be. Perhaps Foyt sees some of himself in Karam and wants to tap into that swagger. As an outsider, it seems like an unwise move.

Keep in mind, whoever they put in the No.4 car will need to be able to work with Tony Kanaan. Karam and Kanaan worked together at Ganassi in 2015. I don’t recall many volatile or public confrontations between the two while at Ganassi, but I don’t recall any great bonding going on there either. Between Kanaan’s love for pranks and Conor Daly’s goofball personality (which I say in the most complimentary way), I can see them having great potential for being a very likeable pairing on and off the track.

I credit IMS President Doug Boles for staying out of it. Conor Daly is the son of former driver Derek Daly and the stepson of Doug Boles. He has stayed silent for the most part, but when pressed on the issue on Trackside a couple of weeks ago, he said that if Conor were to be able to stay on at Foyt, it would be his fantasy pairing. AJ Foyt is the longtime idol of Boles and Tony Kanaan is one of his favorite current drivers. To see Daly driving for Foyt alongside Tony Kanaan would fulfill two goals at one time.

There are some of you that are tired of hearing about Conor Daly and think he is overrated. I don’t. There are and always will be drivers that are touted as the next great thing. Drivers like Jaime Camara and Alex Lloyd fell into that category along with some guy named Josef Newgarden. What’s my point? After two seasons, it’s too early to tell. Camara and Lloyd have now become trivial footnotes in IndyCar history, while Newgarden is an IndyCar champion. Lack of funding and opportunity had a lot to do with the fortunes of Camara and Lloyd, while Newgarden at least started out with an opportunity that those other two did not.

Josef Newgarden finished twenty-third in points in his first IndyCar season. He improved to fourteenth in his second year. But Newgarden got to stay with the same team his first two years. Daly drove for Dale Coyne in his rookie year and finished eighteenth. In doing so, he made some typical rookie mistakes, but showed flashes of brilliance at other times. Driving the second car for AJ Foyt is not a great assignment and the results were not pretty. Still, he turned it on at the end and salvaged some decent finishes (decent meaning it was improvement over the other two-thirds of the season).

So while I’m not ready to anoint Conor Daly as the next Newgarden, I certainly don’t think he is overrated nor do I think he is anything close to being a bust. He is a work in progress, as is Foyt’s team. I think Daly has done enough to warrant a second year in the No.4 car; rather than going with Sage Karam, who is best known for putting his car into the fence for half of the races in his last ten starts.

Then again, pitting Sage Karam and AJ Foyt together could make for great theater. But I have a good idea how the script would play out.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “Question For Foyt: Conor Daly Or Sage Karam?”

  1. Let me get some quick heat here and say I wish they could put both in the cars and have Tony finally go away, I have grown sick of him and his lack of winning even though George likes him, the guy is done, he’s not winning anymore races other than a fluke win maybe. But that’s not how it works so I would say Daly based on him not tearing up cars so much. By the way didn’t Kanaan prank Sage by painting his Camaro pink? So now that I have my grumpy rant out, I am interested to see how Tony does, and if he can help that team.

  2. mickkraut Says:

    With how important sponsor relations has become these days, you have to go with Daly over Karam…

    Plus team continuity could translate into a better year (especially in light of Daly’s improvement as the season came to a close)

    There is a reason that Ganassi didn’t keep Karam on and I think that is also why he hasn’t had a full time ride in the series and it likely comes down to 2 things – he’s rough on equipment (smaller teams can’t afford the weekly damage costs) and his “youthful exuberance” likely translates more into “entitled a-hole” that people prefer to avoid.

  3. I think it is very unlikely that Foyt Racing is narrowly focused on only the two drivers mentioned in this blog.

    • IU writer Says:

      Sage would be crazy to take this career ender ride.
      This article is written so slanted towards Daly and it’s obvious what the author wants. Karam is by far and away a better talent and untapped potential. He would certainly be a title contender within 3 years on a quality team.
      Author fails to mention that as a rookie on a partial season, Karam won the only podium the Ganassi 8 car has ever won! Over Briscoe, Saavedra and even 2 full seasons of Chilton!!!

      • I never try to hide what I want. I think I make it pretty clear. It’s curious how two hours ago, Karam had two votes in the poll. Now he has over 250? And why do you post as “IU Writer” on one comment and as “Ruby” on another? IP address is the same on both. Something to hide? – GP

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Well, Karam is certainly not a popular choice in today’s poll…

    I think Sage is the much more intriguing option here, but that may not be what is best for the team. I know there seems to be little middle ground on Karam, you typically either love the guy or hate him, and I can respect the reasons for both views.

    However, those who wonder why there are fans who really want to see him in a car and who believe he had a fair chance and blew it with Ganassi should understand this: 3 drivers (Munoz, Hawksworth, Chaves) that Karam beat for the 2013 Indy Lights championship have raced a combined 8 full seasons (and 144 races) while Karam has yet to contest 1 full season’s worth of races. A fourth driver that he beat that year, Zach Veach, has just secured a full season ride. Money and business aside, Karam is going to viewed as deserving of a ride by many because of this.

  5. Karam over Daly 7 days a week!

  6. Met Daly at Belle Isle and I can see why sponsors like him. Really nice young man. Yet, I voted for Sage, and my reason might seem silly. I think Indycar could use a few “kick up some dust” villains. I don’t mean the fabricated stock car “have at it boys” crap, but just a guy or two worth rooting against. I find it difficult to root against anyone in the series because they all seem to be such nice guys. Sage, and this may be entirely unfair on my part, just sort of comes across as a bit of a d-bag. Could perhaps add a little more drama to the grid.

  7. Foyt and Karam IMO would be like gasoline and spark (Thanks, Pressdog,) Foyt would, sooner or later, get tired of the crash bill$

  8. It is really a shame that younger drivers normally are not given a chance to develop their skills and even have to bring $$$/sponsorship. Either driver could benefit with the drive. So could Munoz if he had had a better season.

  9. Late to the party here, obviously, but as of today, Sage Karam is 22 years, 7 months and 11 days old. AJ Foyt’s age when he made his USAC debut at Springfield in 1957: 22 years, 7 months and 1 day old. Not to say that this means that I’d prefer Sage in the ride (given the choice, I’d like to see Conor get a year of stability and see what he can do), it’s just to say that Sage is still REALLY young. Yeah, he’s been a knucklehead in the past. Most people are at 20 years old. But he was showing some real maturity at Indy this year, moving forward and staying out of trouble, when the car let him down. It’s a bummer that we only get to see him but once a year in an IndyCar. I’d like to see another dozen or two starts (he still only has 15 total IndyCar starts, and only two of those have come after he was able to buy his own beer after the race) before really drawing a strong conclusion on the kid.

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