In Saturday’s (Aug. 14) NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard, Sage Karam became the latest IndyCar driver to make his NASCAR debut.
He finished fifth in stage 1 and was running in the top 15 with five laps to go before electrical issues forced an end to his race, giving him a 26th-place finish.
Dozens of IndyCar drivers before Karam have made their own splashes in NASCAR, albeit with mixed results. Of course, many remember the likes of Daytona 500 winners Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt having successful stints in NASCAR. Other memorable drivers included in this category are Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Jim Hurtubise, Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti.
What about other IndyCar stars whose past NASCAR appearances are mostly forgotten, though? Let’s refresh your memory bank on five of them here:
1. Buddy Rice
The 2003 Ford 200 is one of the most memorable races in Camping World Truck Series history. From Brendan Gaughan’s crash that killed his title hopes to Ted Musgrave’s restart penalty to Travis Kvapil emerging as the series champion, this race had storylines that have been talked about for years. But lost in all the drama was the first and only NASCAR start made by Buddy Rice.
At the time of this event, Rice was a newcomer to IndyCar, having just wrapped up his rookie year. When he had his schedule open for NASCAR’s championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Duke Thorson tabbed Rice to drive his No. 88 truck for the event. He qualified 33rd and stayed clean all race long, finishing three laps down in 20th.
Rice never started a NASCAR race again, as he continued his journey toward more success in the NTT IndyCar Series. That success came soon after his NASCAR venture, scoring a monumental win in the 2004 Indianapolis 500. He added two more victories in 2004 and was a mainstay in the series before officially hanging up his helmet after the 2011 season.
2. Buddy Lazier
This next driver shares more than a first name with Rice. He also scored his first career win in the Indianapolis 500.
Buddy Lazier made his first IndyCar appearance in 1989, failing to qualify for that year’s Indianapolis 500. Once his career got going, he had to wait until 1996 to finally get his first win, coming in the 500. He collected eight total victories in the series, racing on a full-time basis through 2002.
It was during this part-time period in 2007 that Lazier got a call from Trucks team owner Billy Ballew with the offer to make his NASCAR debut in the Smith’s 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ironically, this race also had the debut of fellow open-wheel racer Villeneuve, who won the Indianapolis 500 the year before Lazier did.
Lazier qualified 21st in Ballew’s No. 15 Chevrolet. Fortunately, he made it to the end with a clean truck, finishing three laps down in 24th. But Villeneuve got the better finish of the two in 21st.
From then on, Lazier’s racing schedule stuck to solely competing in the Indianapolis 500. His last start came in 2017, where he finished 29th.
3. Al Unser Jr.
Having just won his first Indianapolis 500 in 1992, “Little Al” had plenty of confidence going into 1993. The IndyCar season was still a few months away, so his calendar was open around the time of the Daytona 500.
Rick Hendrick tabbed the newly crowned Indy 500 winner to drive his No. 46 Chevrolet, with Unser’s sponsor Valvoline providing support for the deal. He may have been a NASCAR rookie, but he was no stranger to stock car racing in general. He was a regular in the IROC series, taking home two championships, in 1986 and 1988.
At Daytona International Speedway, Unser suffered a crash in the first Duel race, but finished high enough out of the place-or-go-home cars to make the show, starting 40th in teammate Ken Schrader’s Busch Clash car. He drove his way into the top 10 by lap 15, but contact with Dale Earnhardt sent him into the outside wall at turn 4’s exit. He spun down into the path of Bobby Hillin Jr. and suffered major damage, retiring the Unser from the race with a 36th-place finish.
After this start, Unser left NASCAR behind and continued his IndyCar career. He picked up a second Indy 500 win in 1994 and won a second series title the same year. He concluded his career after finishing 26th in the 2007 Indy 500 with a grand total of 34 wins, seven poles and two championships.
4. Tom Sneva
Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Tom Sneva had a magnificent IndyCar career but tried to include NASCAR in it as well.
From surviving a major rollover crash in the 1975 Indy 500, to winning the same event in 1983 over Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, to winning four series championships, Sneva surely accomplished a lot in IndyCar.
He tried to carry over that success to NASCAR but didn’t fare as well. He made eight Cup starts between 1977-87 but retired in six of those races due to mechanical or engine problems. His biggest highlight in NASCAR came in the 1983 Daytona 500, where he scored an impressive seventh-place finish.
Sneva ended his racing career after the 1992 Indy 500 where he finished 31st after an early crash. With everything he achieved in IndyCar, it’s only fair for his stint in NASCAR to be remembered as well.
5. Danny Sullivan
The inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 was one of the most hyped-up races in modern NASCAR history, with a record-setting entry list of 86 cars and a massive crowd. Jeff Gordon, who grew up in Indiana, claimed a popular win, the second of his career. It not only featured the final career NASCAR start for Foyt, but also the first and only Cup start for Danny Sullivan.
Sullivan is mostly remembered for his dramatic “spin-and-win” feat in the 1985 Indy 500. While passing Andretti for the top spot, Sullivan spun but managed to not hit anything, keep his car rolling and later re-passing Andretti to win the race.
He had 17 total wins in CART to go with his 1988 championship in the series. When NASCAR showed up to party at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, he wanted to join in on the fun.
Sullivan, like Unser Jr., had prior stock car experience in IROC, getting one win in the series in 1989. He comfortably qualified his No. 99 Chevrolet into the Brickyard 400, starting 26th. He played it cool and put together a calm, clean race, coming home in 33rd. He may have finished eight laps down, but at least he didn’t tear up his equipment.
For someone who has the kind of history Sullivan had at Indianapolis, getting to make his NASCAR debut there was a noteworthy achievement on its own.
About the author
Jesse is a 27-year-old motorsports fan hailing from western NY, now residing in Knoxville, TN. Aside from writing, his resume includes accomplishments behind the wheel as a racer, plus behind the mic as an announcer. He holds an A.S. degree in Music Performance and another one in Public Communications. He enjoys racing go-karts, playing drums/piano, exercising, playing with his dog, and studying motorsports history in his spare time.
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