INDIANAPOLIS — This has been by all accounts a career year for Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly. The American driver sits 14th in points after 10 rounds in the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season heading to this weekend’s doubleheader at the Iowa Speedway.
At this point forward, Daly hoping to end the year on a high note as he’s in the 1st year of a multi-year contract with ECR. It’s also the first time since 2017 that he’ll complete an entire season with one team and not slide back and forth between multiple organizations.
That’s part of the reason as to why you’re seeing an improved Daly who’s made 90 starts now in the series.
The focus now though is all on Iowa and it’s a place to where Daly can thrive. He’s been a short track master. His only pole came here in 2020 (36 starts ago). He finished 8th in that race. However, the short oval over at the World Wide Technology Raceway may be his best track.
In 5 career starts on the St. Louis area track, Daly has scored 4 top 10’s with a worst result being 11th last year.
What makes him so good on these tracks?
“I honestly don’t know really because if you would have asked me in 2016 I would have said they’re my worst,” he told me. “I think it’s just a matter of experience, it’s a matter of getting comfortable with the limits of the car, and efficiently using the downforce that the car produces and just throwing it in there. Like it’s just a matter of being super, super committed at Iowa, certainly in qualifying, because it’s so fast that like physically it’s literally pulling at your face and your entire body.
“You’ve just kind of got to get through it and know that the car is going to catch you when you get to the center, even if you’re hopping over all the bumps that there is on the track.
“I don’t know, I think I’ve just learned to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
As far as what else has changed to make him feel more comfort on these tracks, he says it truly comes down to the car.
“Like I think if you have a comfortable car underneath you — like when I got to Carlin, they had a certain philosophy that really worked well for me, both at Texas and the short ovals, and I guess — with the short ovals, as well, it’s not as much down to the extreme aerodynamic efficiencies that you’d see at Texas or Indy where you have the cars that have been in the wind tunnel and in the shop for months getting worked on just to find the last little bit of — get the last little bit of drag out of it,” he continued. “You don’t really need that at the short tracks. So it comes down to just nailing the setup.
“I still remember talking to Michael Cannon, obviously who is Scott Dixon’s engineer, was my engineer at Iowa my rookie year, and he literally looked at me after the race and was like, yeah, I’m sorry, we just didn’t have it today. It was like, it’s not your fault. It’s like, we just did not nail it. I was like, I appreciate that. Like thank you. It was very tough.
“Then literally a few years later we find something that makes me feel comfortable, and we’re only talking about small things. You find a small thing in these cars to get it to just drive the way you need it, and it pays off leaps and bounds.
“So I think it’s more so understanding what I need out of the car, what I like in the car, and trying to relay that to the team and get to that point.”
Between Iowa and Gateway are the Gallagher Grand Prix (July 30) and a street race in Nashville (Aug. 7). Daly finished 12th in the inaugural race on the Nashville streets last season while being 5th in the last road course race at IMS this past May.
If you combine the Indy road course with Iowa and Gateway you’ll see that Daly has scored 7 of his 18 (38%) of his top 10’s on these tracks. They make up 4 of the next 5 races. For Indy in general, he’s a Fast 6 threat each time. Is Daly finding it hard to not look ahead now?
“I mean, Nashville is the only one where it’s kind of like, it’s been tough for us on the street courses for sure, so we want to just take advantage of these next three races, right,” Daly told me. “Yeah, it’s not added pressure. I’m just happy to go to places where I think we’ve done a lot of work at, and Iowa I think is just exciting in general because you never know what could happen during that race.
“I mean, when I first started going to Iowa in INDYCAR, I was awful, and it’s just amazing how quickly that can just change because you learn, you pick up on things, you figure out what you want there, and so yeah, we want to score a lot of points in these next two races in Iowa, and we want to do the same thing that we did at the Indy GP in May and be in the top 5 fighting for the podium.
“It would be really, really, really nice to have a nice smooth next three races, but then I look at Gateway, too. Love Gateway. We’re also coming up on two events that I’ve still not done with this team, Ed Carpenter Racing. So that’ll be nice to just kind of get a feel for their program at both Iowa and Gateway and just kind of keep this season going, because obviously when it comes to points and when it comes to the season, there’s definitely been one of — statistically my best when it comes to points for sure, so we’ve just got to keep that going, and I think yeah, it’s nice to have tracks that you feel confident about coming up rather than tracks where you’re like, well, we hope we just save the day somehow.”
2 of the other 11 are in the Indy 500, 2 more are at Texas, another 2 at Belle Isle with the other 3 at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Daly sits just 13 points behind his teammate Rinus VeeKay in the standings and 45 points out of 10th. He’d love to get ahead of VeeKay in points. Not because there’s any animosity there because there’s certainly not. It’s just that in racing, you’re always judged first and foremost against your teammates. To be the top driver for the team is massive bragging rights.
Daly has outqualified VeeKay just 3 times but he’s outplaced him in the race in 4 of the last 6. That’s why the margin is so small between them.
That and being in the top 10 in points for which he’s less than 50 points out of are each attainable goals Daly wants to achieve and with these tracks coming up, he can certainly do so.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “We want to be in the top 10 in the points when it comes down to the end of the season. When you look at the guys that we’re around, you’ve got Rahal, Grosjean, guys that we know are obviously good or at least people that I’ve been told are better than I am, and I’m excited to go out there every weekend.
“These races are so interesting, you see guys that are in the top 10 in points, all of a sudden in the back, and then at the front. One podium or one top-5 finish vaults you forward in the points. We have two races in front of us, we finish in the top 5 in both, you might be in the top 10 right then in the points, depending on what everyone else is doing.
“It’s definitely what we want to be doing. We want to be in the top 10 in points. I want to be trying to be the lead car for Ed Carpenter Racing, as well, but obviously Rinus is going to be extremely competitive at every race just like he always is. So yeah, it’s going to be — that’s the goal for sure.”