By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NEWTON, Iowa – You can’t say Conor Daly is lacking confidence heading into this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.
Filling in for sidelined driver Simon Pagenaud in the Meyer-Shank Racing No. 60 Honda at the 0.894-mile oval, Daly is focused on getting the most out of the weekend in what could be a banner run for both him and the team.
After finding himself on the outs with Ed Carpenter Racing just seven races into the 2023 season, Daly was thrust in the relief driver role when Pagenaud was injured in a harrowing crash at Mid-Ohio at the start of the month.
Though it was a last-minute call to have Daly drive for the team at Mid-Ohio, he comes into Iowa having been able to mentally prepare for the back-to-back 250-lap races on Saturday and Sunday. Pagenaud wasn’t ruled out of Iowa until mid-week, but Daly has been getting into race mode should the call come for him to drive for the team again this weekend.
If there was any track that Daly would be the driver to call for a replacement role, it’s Iowa, where the 31-year-old has run well in his recent visits to the track. Since 2020, Daly has not qualified worse than third-place, along with a top-10 finish in the first race of the doubleheader that year.
Given the partnership between Meyer-Shank and Andretti Autosport, Daly is looking at this weekend being his best shot yet to improve on those numbers.
“[Team owner] Mike Shank’s given me everything that I need to prepare, which is great,” Daly said. “And, you know, I’m able to bring information from the experience that I’ve had here in the past, right? Like, I’ve not qualified like worse than third I think in like a couple years. So, it’s pretty decent to be doing that and to have some information to hopefully maybe help their program. And then they’ve got stuff that obviously will help me.
“So, I feel ready. I mean, we come into this weekend wanting to compete at the front and there’s nothing else that we want to do. I mean, they’ve got everything ready. I’ve been ready. I’ve had a new trainer. I’ve been racing stuff still because of the NASCAR Trucks, you know, I did that. And so, I feel good, feel really ready. It’s not been a long time since I’ve been out of the car, so everything is pointing to, you know, it’s a great situation. It’s a great chance.
While getting booted from a full-time ride in the series is not something any driver would like to have to go through, Daly explained that he is taking the turn of events that has transpired since June in stride, as it serves as a learning experience for him.
“There’s a lot that has gone on. I can’t really say much, but I have definitely not lost any confidence. And if anything gained confidence in the fact that I see what’s going on. I see what’s happening and I got to feel what I felt in Mid-Ohio with the MSR team.
“It was something, you know, sometimes you need to jump into something different to know that you’re not crazy or to know that there is a difference. There is something else that’s possible. So, I feel great. I mean, I feel more confident than ever. I mean, Anything that I’ve got to drive since then has gone great as well.”
Daly added that team owner Mike Shank has only helped to amp up the confidence that he already has in the team and the opportunity that lies ahead, noting that while gathering points for the team is one of their goals for the weekend, he’s also given him the green light to go for the win should he be in position to do so.
“This weekend is for sure one of the most important weekends that I’ve had in the last like, six years. So, I can’t wait for it,” said Daly. “For me though, I enjoy it. Like I’ve gone into this with such a different mental outlook because even Mike Shank’s like, ‘Dude, I know we need points, but go out there and try to win this thing.’ I was like, yeah, I agree. Like let’s go win this thing, you know.”
The team will get its first opportunity to get a gauge of their performance capabilities this weekend when Friday’s 90-minute practice session kicks off at 4:30 pm ET on Peacock.