Conor Daly has more than proved that he belongs in the Verizon IndyCar Series after just a few starts this season.
He did a sufficient job at Long Beach subbing for Rocky Moran Jr. at Dale Coyne Racing, after getting the call while eating at the Honda Hospitality Tent. Sam Schmidt then called him to race in a third car at the Indianapolis 500, but that ended before it started as the fuel cell leaked on the parade lap.
Daly took it like a man, didn’t whine or complain and kept his head forward until Schmidt called him up again to fill in for James Hinchcliffe at the Detroit Doubleheader weekend, where Daly became one of the stars of the weekend.
He ended the first race in 18th place, but flexed his muscle in the second race and was a force to be reckoned with. He managed to squeeze more fuel out than his rivals and an off sequence strategy put him in a position to nearly win the race. He inherited the lead during the second full course caution as many drivers pitted for slick tires while he stayed out on wets, going off strategy on his fuel.
He didn’t just hold the lead, he pulled away from the pack on the restarts and was walking away with a potential upset win. Had the yellow flag for Josef Newgarden’s crash on lap 50 not flown, he could have easily won.
Still, he fought his way through the field and overcame a blocking penalty and dodged several accidents to score a 6th place finish.
“It was so nice out be out front and be legit out front and run with those guys and pull away from people,” he said. “Car was great, the team did a great job on strategy, we would have had a shot at winning it had Josef not crashed there. That is all you can ask for, if you have a shot at winning, that is a good feel.”
For team owner Sam Schmidt, Daly was a natural choice to fill in for Hinchcliffe despite a dashed run at the Indianapolis 500. Daly drove for Schmidt in Indy Lights in 2011 and had the points lead in 2011 three races in and left to race in GP3 in persuit of an F1 dream.
Ultimately it comes down to money in racing, and if all the stars aligned Schmidt would put Daly in the car without question.
“Conor’s ready to be in full time,” Schmidt said. “We’re for sure better as a two car team and we would like to have some continuity. We ran him in Indy Lights in 2011 and he was ahead of Josef Newgarden in the points when he took off for GP3 that season. I begged his dad to let him stay and try to win the championship.
“It was a catch-22 because he had to chase the F1 dream and he would not be as good as he is today without that level of experience in GP3 and GP2.”
Even with with Daly’s 24 going on 40 attitude and uncanny ability behind the wheel, selling himself to a sponsor funding still takes a bit of work.
“It’s hard to sell pure sponsorship like ‘Hey would you guys like to be involved, here’s the side of the car, here’s a bunch of hospitality, etc,” said Daly. “It’s really difficult. We are always looking for ways to do deals. Its always B2B. Any way you have to make it work, you make it work.”