By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter & NASCAR Contributor
Conor Daly once again proved why he belongs in the Verizon IndyCar Series despite finishing in 13th in today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The 24 year old from Noblesville, Indiana was put in position to win after a fantastic strategy call by his Dale Coyne Racing pit crew to have him pit on lap 13 along with teammate Luca Filippi.
He picked up the lead after the yellow flew on lap 46 for Marco Andretti’s spin which forced the leaders to make their second stop under the caution. Having already pitted, Daly was elevated to the top of the field.
And he made the most of it.
He held off a hard charging Tony Kanaan once the race restarted on lap 57 and the subsequent yellow flag for the multi car pileup was a saving grace as Daly was able to save fuel and get on the same sequence as the leaders.
Once the race resumed, he had a rear view mirror full of Juan Pablo Montoya, who wasted no time getting by Daly in turn one, but his drive didn’t decrease after he lost the lead. He kept pace with Montoya while saving fuel over the course of the stint, running laps on a similar pace to the Columbian’s.
All was going good until lap 80 when he made what was supposed to be his final pit stop of the day. The stop took a little longer as the team made a front wing adjustment and once he returned to the track, the bottom suddenly fell out.
He found himself in a skirmish with James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz which resulted in Daly having to make an additional pitstop when the water temperature spiked on his #18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda. Daly explained the incident in the team’s release:
“We came out of the pits right in the middle of a scuffle and, obviously, we’re on cold tires but the tires come in pretty quick,” he said. “I thought Hinch was a couple of laps down so I didn’t know he was going to go heavy to the inside. But then Munoz tried to go on the outside of both of us and we’re both already trying to do something, there was no room there. You can’t go three wide there. I don’t know what he was doing exactly and I ended up on the curb and the wheel actually flew out of my hands.”
Daly returned to the track in 12th place and fought with fellow rookie and engaged in a battle with fellow American Alexander Rossi for 12th place, but Daly’s tires were not up to snuff and Rossi maintained the position.
Despite having a possible win and podium not go his way, Daly was optimistic about the day.
“It was nice to be out there,” he said. “We had a bit of luck to get out to P1 but, I thought we really nailed it on that set of Firestone Reds when we got there. The Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality car was really good on the reds and I was able to kind of just establish a pace but I got caught in traffic a little bit. I need to work on where I apply the overtake and our traction.
We’re not good on traction and a lot of people were getting us and it made it hard for overtaking. I mean, there’s a lot to learn, but overall it was nice to fight upfront with the Penskes. That’s the key thing, it’s that we were fighting upfront and they weren’t pulling away. We were right there and we were saving fuel.”
All and all, when you look at how Daly ran today, it really speaks wonders to the talent of this 24 year old. DCR has always been the underdog, but with Daly at the wheel they might just become contenders on a regular basis.