INDIANAPOLIS — Conor Daly felt that “here we go again” feeling early on in Saturday’s wild and chaotic GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A day after scoring a 4th place qualifying effort in his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, there he was fading quickly back through the field. Back to 5th. Back to 6th. Back to 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th. Those hopes and dreams of kissing the bricks at his hometown track, well they were being dashed right in front of his face and he had no idea as to why.
Well he knew why. The used Firestone alternate tires. His car didn’t take a liking to them. When he finally pit well outside of the top 10 for a fresh set of Firestone alternates, the car came back to life.
He slid from 5th to 17th and made his second pit stop for another set of reds on Lap 28. From there, he began his charge back to the front and had re-entered the Top 10 in just 20 laps.
Was it too little too late?
“I really don’t know because Firestone obviously makes a great tire, and sometimes when you put on the used reds, I don’t know if you pick up something on it. It’s something,” Daly told me.
“I’ve had that happen before in other races kind of randomly, but it might just be kind of like the luck of the draw. You might have run over something that — it felt like we had a left rear that was going flat, but it wasn’t. Very strange feeling. Literally, as soon as you put on another set of tires, everything was perfect. There’s only one variable there that we changed, and that’s tires.”
He didn’t give up though. Even though he was steaming mad inside of the cockpit, a finish back up front was what he was still going for and on a day that rain littered the 2.439-mile road course off and on, Daly found his way back up to 5th for his 4th career top 5 in his 85th start.
The closing laps of the race were marred with cautions as intermittent rain moved through the area. On Lap 59, the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet crew switched Daly to another set of red Firehawks. Conditions quickly deteriorated and two laps later, he came back in for wet tires. Daly managed the conditions and continued to move forward. By the checkered flag of what became a timed race, Daly finished 5th, his best finish with Ed Carpenter Racing to date.
In saying that, when he was fading, what was it like in the cockpit for him? Was it as frustrating as it sounds?
“I thought it was just another day in the office, but I never give up in this series, and I tell the team that,” Daly said. “I said, it doesn’t matter if the day is going bad, but I will always be fighting until the end.
“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.”
Now coming off of a top 5 for him, then the race prior Rinus VeeKay scoring the pole and leading the most laps in a podium effort and now heading to a race that Daly led the most laps in last year, does he feel the momentum starting to build?
“I think the team has done a great job this year,” said Daly. “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.
“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.”