By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A change of luck for Conor Daly was needed this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and that’s what he received. After finishing no better than 12th at Long Beach, Daly survived the race-shortened 74 laps by scoring a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix.
It marked his first NTT IndyCar Series top-five finish since Gateway in 2018 where he finished in the same exact spot. Additionally, it’s the Noblesville, Indiana native’s fourth career top-five outing in 85 starts.
The race will go down in the record books as one of the more bizarre ones in recent INDYCAR memory. Rain throughout the day played a huge role on how the grand prix unfolded. It ranged from drivers being involved in incidents to figuring out if running wet or red Firestone compounds was the best option.
Through the madness, Daly had a see-saw afternoon. Early in the going, the fourth-place starter fell back in order to save fuel. Once rain kept popping up and a series of full course cautions plagued drivers, teams and the race itself, Daly ultimately worked his way back into the top-five when the race ended under caution.
Daly had to think when was the last time he had raced in the rain. But noted that the first run on the red compounds was an absolute struggle. From there, Mother Nature favored the 30-year-old in an interesting way.
“I don’t remember the last rain race that I did. I actually walked up to Ric Peterson with SPM. I was, like, ‘heck, I think the last time I had a rain race was with you in Detroit in 2015, and we led a lot of that race.’ I was, like, I’m ready. I’m excited,” said Daly.
“Then it dried out very quickly. Difficult first for us. I don’t know what happened on the first set of reds, but they were used reds, and we just went straight backwards. Car was an absolute handful, and I have no idea why,” Daly on the opening run.
“Then it kind of forced our hand, and we put on new reds, and it was right back to the great car that it was. So I think we did second fastest race lap, and we were just hauling getting back making up some of the ground that we lost. Then, obviously, the skies opened up a little bit so, that made for an interesting rest of the afternoon,” Daly concluded.
Five rounds have been completed in an already chaotic campaign, Daly improved from 19th to 16th in the championship standings going into the 106th Indianapolis 500 (Sunday, May 29 at 11:00 am ET on NBC).
Following his first top-five as a driver for Ed Carpenter Racing, Daly simply said it was “another day in the office.” That’s after dealing with wet conditions that tested the Aeroscreen which he’s never seen anything like it before. Come hell or high water, not once has given up on the sport he loves and the team he’s surrounded with.
Even if the first four rounds haven’t been kind to the No. 20 squad, he’ll fight hard to improve on his track position.
“It doesn’t matter if the day is going bad, but I will always be fighting until the end,” Daly commented.
“Same in Barber. Same in any track. This is what I love to do. I want to be competitive. I want to beat these guys and girls that we’re racing against, and we obviously beat the majority of them today.
“It was something that worked out in the end, and we’ve seen crazy stuff like this before. I remember Sebastian Bourdais starting last and winning races, and people going all over the place spinning, being a lap down and winning races. That’s the fun of INDYCAR.”
During last year’s Indy 500, Daly led a race-high 40 laps but sustained front wing damage after hitting Graham Rahal’s loose wheel. He ended up 13th after completing all 200 laps.
As this month soldiers on, excitement is in the air for Daly as he’ll look to improve on his 500 efforts.
“I think the team has done a great job this year. We know we had some areas where we wanted to improve, and I think we have. Obviously, the old big one is next, and I’m very excited about that one, honestly,” Daly explained.
“This was a day that helps us for sure. There’s a lot of momentum. And, honestly, it’s a shame because all of our BitNile folks are not here this weekend, so we might have to ban them from the rest of the races, I don’t know, because we had a wildly good day today. Hugely thankful for their support.
“Honestly, Chevrolet right now is doing a great job and really proud to be under that banner as well.”