INDIANAPOLIS — Conor Daly enters the final three races of the NTT IndyCar Series season in an interesting predictament. The Indiana native wants to win. I mean, who doesn’t? But, to win in the NTT IndyCar Series, sometimes you have to take risks.
Strategy plays are huge, especially on this 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. While you’d think Daly and his Ed Carpenter Racing team would be in a situation to just swing for the fences and go for broke, they’re unfortunately not at a luxury to do so.
Daly personally could, but the No. 20 Chevrolet needs the points. That entrant is 23rd in the entrant standings. They trail the No. 14 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing by just one points for the ever so critical 22nd place in the standings. Why this is important is, only the top 22 in the entrant points receive the leaders circle payout.
With how this year has gone in the middle of a pandemic, losing out on that bonus money could be the difference in being on the grid next year or not.
The car Daly is piloting needs to get into the top 22. They’re also only two points shy of Marco Andretti’s car for 21st and 19 points from the second Foyt car (No. 4 Chevrolet) for 19th.
That’s part why Sebastien Bourdais is now in the 14 and not Dalton Kellett. That car is close to dropping out. In turn, it’s why it puts Daly in an interesting situation for the final three races of the season.
“Honestly we just go for points,” Daly said of this weekend now with that situation facing them. “I talked to Ed (Carpenter) about that this week. He was like if we have a chance to win on a strategy swing, we might just stay where we are because we need the points. I respect that.
“I’m here to be a team man. We’ve had a lot of points that was taken away from us in a weird situations. I think we can do it. Obviously, we want to have a good solid weekend in the top 10. If we can do that, than we’ll accomplish our goal.”
Where this is a catch 22 is, Daly also has to audition for a 2021 ride. He wants to come back to ECR but that future depends on his sponsorship from US Air Force. To entice them to come back, winning never hurts. But, you can’t risk going for a win and not doing so and not make up ground to get into the top 22 and risk that ride not being around other than for Carpenter on the ovals only.
“Realistically, my entire life hinges on if the Air Force wasn’t to come back and be involved and we’re definitely trying to make that happen with ECR for sure because I’d like to be with these guys again and be at all the races,” Daly told me on Thursday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I want to go to Long Beach. I want to go to Detroit. I want to go to all of these races I didn’t get to go to this year.”
The thing is, how do you court a sponsor to come back when 2020 saw so much uncertainty? How do we know 2021 will be different?
“I hope so,” Daly continued. “I don’t know. I’ve still yet to progress to where I’m a driver without a sponsor. I’m still just me with the Air Force. I want to continue to make that relationship a successful one. I think this year is a really hard to judge anything because they couldn’t use their on track activations. I’m hoping we basically get a redo and say that didn’t work and get to try it again next year. A full go and everything is back to normal then we can really make it work. I think a lot of stuff we did together was really cool. They see that and take that into account.
“These government deals. They’re the only ones here. When it comes to November, we have to go in and say here’s what we want to do. I personally want to be back with ECR again and hopefully in a full time sense and not just the road and street courses.”
The thing that helps Daly too and hurts him on the other end is 13 of the 17 races are on road/street courses. It makes more sense for Carpenter to just bring out a third car for the ovals and go with tow full time drivers if US Air Force continues with Daly.
“Hopefully now, seeing the schedule, there’s only three ovals,” Daly said. “I hope we can just put it together with one car and one ride, one team. But, I’m still willing to do anything.”
One thing that Daly notes that he’s improved upon in 2020 is his qualifying ability. That should perk the interests of teams too.
“I have always wanted to be better in qualifying and we’ve done that this year. We’ve started pole, third, fourth, eighth. There’s more times to where I’m starting in the top half now than my rookie year or 2017. Heck I couldn’t get out of my own way in qualifying. Now we are. We just haven’t been able to find a way to have everything go right in a race. We’ve literally be on the wrong end of a yellow nine times out of 10. Every race guy can say that, but for me, it’s actually a thing. We just need to be on the bright side of something.