MNR Review: Sage Karam Steals the Show, Avoids Chaos at Mosport

This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing. 

On Monday, Dec. 12, the Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series ran the Tufco Flooring 1:20:00, the sixth race of season six, at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the NASCAR Next Gen Cup Cars.

Sage Karam, former NTT IndyCar Series and current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, took the checkered flag in his MNR debut, leading the entire first half of the race and taking the lead for good after a late mistake by Adam Cabot. Cabot held on for second, while Will Rodgers placed third, Alex Labbe fourth and Joey Padgett rounded out the top five.

Check out the race recap from Frontstretch’s Joy Tomlinson here. Also, you can view the full race broadcast, along with the Frontstretch post-race show featuring Brandon Hauff and Michael Massie, on the Frontstretch YouTube Channel.  A lot happened in this race, but here are the five points that stand out:

1) The Sage Karam Show

Karam was quick to make a name for himself on the MNR circuit. Making his series debut, the 27-year-old from Nazareth, Pa., used his extensive road course experience in open wheels and stock cars to his advantage, running fast in practice and qualifying in the third position.

See also
Sage Karam Earns Monday Night Racing Debut Win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

When the green flag flew, Karam wasted no time finding his way past polesitter Labbe and into the race lead. While many others in the field struggled to keep their cars on course, Karam made it look easy. He navigated his No. 43 machine around the road course without any major mistakes and cruised to a comfortable lead as the planned mid-race caution came out.

That is not to say Karam’s night was completely free of adversity. On the ensuing restart, Karam had a slip-up that allowed Cabot to become only the second leader of the race. Karam only fell as far back as third and began to gradually make his back to Cabot’s back bumper. The two leaders pitted with a little over 20 minutes to go and came out right on top of each other.

It was shaping to be a duel for the race win between Karam and Cabot. However, only a couple of minutes after the pit stops, Cabot ran off course at turn 5, allowing Karam to pass him for the runner-up spot on track. Preston Pardus was the new leader, as he had stayed out longer. But Pardus drove off course with around 15 minutes left, and Karam was back out front and never looked back. Since it is his first start of the season, Karam’s win does not make him playoff eligible.

All told, Karam led for about 58 minutes of the one hour, 20 minutes that made up the event. Cabot, Pardus and Rajah Caruth were the only other drivers to lead at any point in the race.

“It was a lot of fun to race out there with all those guys,” Karam told Podium’s Kenneth Bueno and Jacob Hitz. “[Canadian Tire Motorsport Park] is one of my favorite tracks in the whole entire world.”

Karam believes that his experience in MNR and other iRacing events can help prepare him for the upcoming NASCAR season.

See also
Sage Karam Returning to APR for 2023

“There are a lot of track I haven’t gone to in real life, and iRacing is a great tool for me to be able to go to the track before going there in real life,” Karam said.

2) Calamity in Canada

The Tufco 1:20:00 was just as much about survival as it was racing the competition. On the first lap alone, there were three separate racing incidents involving Josh Bilicki, Ryan Vargas, Michael Massie, Labbe, Corey Heim and last week’s winner Presley Sorah. Heim’s damage led him to retire from the race without finishing a single lap.

The unique track and car combination has never before been raced in real life, and it made it tough for the drivers of MNR to adapt and find their rhythm on the 10-turn, 2.459-mile road course just about an hour and half east of Toronto. Whether it be front runners or back of the pack dwellers, hardly anyone was immune to adversity over the course of the race. In a mid-race interview under caution, Justin Melillo gave his viewpoint on why there were so many incidents.

“A lot of people are not realizing that you need to race the track and not the other people,” Melillo said. “They’re putting themselves into mistakes, and they’re in face putting other people into mistakes.”

Melillo wound up in 19th at the finish. 

There is one statistic that is very telling about the amount of carnage in the race. At the finish, there were more cars out of the race (14) than cars left on the lead lap (9). We will see if a return to ovals next week leads to cleaner racing.

3) Will Rodgers Stays On Track To Boost His Playoff Hopes

Coming into this week, Rodgers found himself in a precarious position in the playoff picture at three points behind the cutoff line. He knew he needed a good run to improve his spot in the standings, and that is exactly what he got with a third place showing.

Given his tenuous place in the points, Rodgers took a slightly different strategy than some of his competitors.

“I was trying to be pretty conservative all night and not make any mistakes,” Rodgers told Hauff and Massie on the Frontstretch post-race show.

After the race, Rodgers is now 14 points above the playoff cutline with two regular season races left, which makes him feel slightly better about his situation.

“I feel decent I guess,” Rodgers said. “The last races have been up-and-down, but this race is a bit of a rebound.”

4) Ford Martin Finds His Form

It has been a while since MNR founder Ford Martin has been a consistent contender. As the league has evolved and the competition has become fiercer, Martin has had a more difficult time competing for wins.

The Tufco 1:20:00 marked a return to form for Martin, posting a 10th-place finish as the first car one lap down. It was the second straight top-10 finish for the driver of the No. 07, backing up a fourth-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the IndyCars last week.

Martin employed a deft combination of clean racing and clever pit strategy to sneak his way into the top 10 by the checkered flag.

“I didn’t take tires the whole race, just fuel only,” Martin told Podium.

Martin also reflected briefly on how far MNR has come over the course of six seasons and how it has impacted him as a driver in the series.

“The competition has stepped up, and it has made me have to step my competition,” Martin said.

Will Martin be able to keep building momentum and perhaps find a spot in the playoff pictures? After the two solid runs, he’s only six points below the cut line. And of course, a win would guarantee him that playoff spot. Martin is winless in his MNR career, but the way this season is going, anything is possible.

5) Next Up: 1987 Cup Series Cars at Auto Club Speedway

Next week sees a return to oval racing for MNR, and it will also see a throwback to the 1987 Cup Series Cars at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

The 1987 Cup cars have become a popular choice for iRacing users since they were first added to the service in 2020, but they are also one of the most difficult car types to handle. It will be interesting to see how the top drivers of MNR handle these older stock cars at the fast two-mile oval at Auto Club. Expect the most talented drivers to rise to the top, and don’t be surprised if we see the yellow flag quite a bit next week too.

That race will be on Podium’s Twitch and Frontstretch’s YouTube page on Monday, Dec. 19, at 7:45 p.m. ET. 

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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Get Real

Nobody cares about fake racing.

JonnyBenson10

I do, it was an entertaining race and I enjoyed it. It’s a really fun and entertaining league that has a lot of big names.

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