Conor Daly hears the rumors. Those floating around about his job security with Ed Carpenter Racing for 2022. He knows that names like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Nico Hulkenburg, Alex Albon and almost anyone else with any open wheel experience are linked to his seat with ECR for next year. But, Daly just blocks them out. He knows that if he could end this season on a high note and secure US Air Force for another year, then no one else but himself would be in that road/street course car at the very least with ECR.
“We’re trying to put it together,” Daly told me on his 2022 plans. “Realistically, it’s working for them (US Air Force). We did a lot this year that was new because we didn’t get to do in 2020. Still, it’s not been a normal season so there’s some events where we’ve not been able to do our setups in the fan zone. There’s still more. This is a certainly level of investment and I still don’t think we’ve been able to give them what they need. Lets go into next season where hopefully it’s more normal and they can get the full extent of the ROI. We want to be back. I want to be back. The Air Force from what I know that they enjoyed the relationship with ECR.
“I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. It’s a good fit. We are building something. You want to build something over the years.”
First things first though, he will be back with Carlin this Saturday at the World Wide Technology Raceway. Carlin, has held an open seat on ovals outside of the Indianapolis 500 the last couple of years and it fits nicely into Daly’s plans. He has all ovals outside of the Indy 500 open himself.
It’s paying off.
He finished sixth, eighth, 13th, 10th and eighth respectively with them last year including a pole in Iowa. This year, he’s only had two opportunities at Texas with this program and he was collected in a first lap crash not of his doing in the second race of the doubleheader weekend.
But, he has a chance to end the year with Carlin on a high note though in Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, INDYCAR Radio Network). This is his best track. He’s had a top 10 finish in all four starts on the 1.25-mile track.
“Yeah, it’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said on an INDYCAR zoom call on Wednesday. “I couldn’t tell you why. Ever since our very first test day with Foyt, where we were quickest, we kind of all looked at each other, This is weird, not really sure why this is happening.
“I love racing there. Love the way that track challenges us as drivers and challenges these cars. It will be fun. I’m just happy to be racing, honestly, which is nice.
“I know we’re going to be strong. We didn’t get to test. I think we’ll just show up and probably try to beat all the rest of the guys.”
What makes him so good there?
“I’d say commitment and wanting to maybe,” he continued. “I’d say it. I don’t know. I think there’s something about the way — I like fast corners on road courses. There’s something about that level of commitment and kind of how that track feels. It’s not a typical oval. Three and four sort of is, but one and two is where all the time is really made.
“Yeah, I just love that track. The way you kind of enter the bowl of one and two is something that is cool. The fact that you have, like, these road course curves at the apex of an oval is really, really interesting.”
Can he carry this momentum throughout the final three races even though it will be back with ECR?
The last five races, he’s beat the team car at ECR in four of them. In fact, the last time Rinus VeeKay crossed the finish line ahead of Daly in a race was VeeKay’s runner-up in Belle Isle 1. The race prior to that, Daly led the most laps in the Indy 500 and had a race winning car before hitting a rogue tire from Graham Rahal’s crash.
He’s been close to turning this corner and showing that while he’s back with Carlin this weekend, he deserves another shot with ECR for 2022.