INDIANAPOLIS – I’ve always said that if Conor Daly had the right ride and right opportunity, he’d show us his true talent. Unfortunately, it’s taken eight years for this opportunity to happen.
Daly, 27, signed with Andretti Autosport to drive their fifth entry in this May’s 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. The deal was announced on Wednesday morning. It’s the ride that Daly has long earned. The drawback to that though is, this brings on a lot of pressure for him.
See, this is all about Daly betting on himself. It’s a major risk because if he can’t contend in an Andretti car at Indy during the Month of May, whom can he contend with. He knows that and knows the pressure that this situation packs.
If he can perform, then this could open up more seat time in the future. If he can win, endless possibilities open up too.
“Yeah, it’s wild to think about,” Daly said of the pressure of the situation he’s now in. “I think, yeah, for sure, there’s added pressure that I put on myself. But realistically the goals never change. As long as you show up as a driver and do everything you can possibly do, you can be happy with your performance. I think we know that the level of equipment will be great. We know that the team will be assembled really strongly.
“So yeah, I mean, there’s always going to be pressure. I’ve always had pressure on me to do something. Realistically for me, I’m just excited. I’d rather turn pressure into excitement, to get to work, because I think it will be an environment that will be definitely new to me in a very good way.”
Daly, has always had raw talent. I wrote back in 2011 that some IndyCar team would be wise to scoop him up. The Noblesville native won seven of the 13 races in the 2010 Star Mazda season with Juncos en route to the overall championship. In 2011, he was only given a limited opportunity in Indy Lights with Sam Schmidt but had to go over to Europe with Carlin in hopes of an F1 seat. Still, in just his third start in Indy Lights competition, he won on the streets of Long Beach.
Even so, no one in the United States offered him a ride, so he stayed in Europe. He contended over there and even won early on in the GP3 Series. Unfortunately for him, his money was drying up so he had to come back to America with his sights set on an IndyCar ride.
Again, while everyone would listen and want his services, he had to bring money in order to get his shot. He landed in a bad third Foyt car at Indy in 2013 and still finished 22nd. That car wasn’t up to bar but Daly drove the heck out of it.
No one gave him an opportunity in 2014 and until he got a last minute call to race for Dale Coyne Racing at Long Beach in 2015, he was unemployed. With no seat time, especially in the new car, he finished a very impressive 17th. Then, Daly ran for SPM at Indy in May but his car caught fire literally before the race even began. After that, he subbed for James Hinchcliffe in three races after his Indy wreck, including a sixth place run in Belle Isle literally seven days after his bad luck in the ‘500.
That led him to a full time ride with DCR in 2016, one where he shined with limited resources. He had five top six finishes including a runner-up result in Belle Isle. That then led him to Foyt again in 2017. Unfortunately, he never was given room to grow there.
Foyt, entered that season behind the eight ball. They switched way too late from Honda to Chevrolet and had no offseason testing or development programs in place. They also revamped their engineering department between 2016 and 2017 too. So, with no chemistry early on, it was difficult. The stats prove that. As the team got to test and learn more and more about one another, the results improved. From Mid-Ohio on that year, Daly’s worst finish was 14th. The final five races saw him finish 10th, 14th, fifth, 11th and 10th respectively.
He thought he was secure and left the country to promote IndyCar on the Amazing Race. He returned only to learn that Foyt made a huge mistake by letting him go. That left him no time to pursue a full season ride.
He landed back with DCR for Indy but in a junk car. He ran a road course car with limited parts on a deal he lost money on. He still finished 21st in a car that didn’t want to go straight. Same deal as with his 2013 Foyt car. He was better than the car.
He had three shots with Harding in the summer and gave them their best finishes and starting spots of the season at that point. He did so with five year old shocks.
After all of that, no one still gave him a shot.
Now, he’s got his shot. He’s racing for the team that has won three of the last five Indy 500’s and had three cars finish in the top seven in this very race a year ago. The extra car for Andretti at Indy has led laps in five of the last six Indy 500’s. The one year they didn’t lead a lap was the year Kurt Busch finished sixth.
Also, four of the last six Indy 500 Rookies of the Year also were with Andretti, three of which driving this very entry.
Pressure is on as unfortunately, he only has one shot to show what he’s got. 20+ years worth of racing on the line for three hours.