Daly set for 100th INDYCAR start this weekend in Long Beach, my feature on him

All he wanted was a chance. Conor Daly grew up around racing. It’s all that he’s ever known. His father, Derek, was a racer himself. He raced in not only Formula 1, but over here in CART too. His mom Beth, a former Indy 500 Princess, was also a world champion jet skier. His stepfather is Doug Boles.

Daly, now 31, stood no chance to do anything but race cars.

This weekend, the Noblesville native will embark on his 100th career NTT INDYCAR Series start. It’s fitting in a sense that it will take place on the streets of Long Beach.

“I am obviously super excited to get to Long Beach and make my 100th NTT INDYCAR SERIES start,” Daly said via a team release ahead of Sunday’s Acura Long Beach Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). It is a track that I have many great memories at, from going to the race as a kid to winning in Indy Lights to racing there in an Indy car.”

That Long Beach win in 2011 helped not only jump start his career, but it also indirectly in a way, led him back to an INDYCAR future as well.

See, Daly has always had the talent. He still does. Unfortunately, he’s had a wild path to take him to where he is today. From racing in the Road to Indy, to the feeder series’ to F1 to INDYCAR to NASCAR to everything in between, Daly has forged together a career that will reach a nice milestone on Sunday afternoon. It’s well deserved and one that I often wish the luck could have been better than what it has.

Daly has given so much to this sport that has given him troublesome times back. However, he’s a fighter. A diabetic racing driver is a feat in itself. Whenever troubles tried to creep in, Daly never once questioned, “why me.” He’s always went around the obstacles and kept going with that Irish/American smile and positive attitude forward.

From driving road course cars in the Indy 500, to filling in for an injured friend, to getting a ride pulled away from him while he was overseas, to racing in Daytona to now, Daly has kept his head held high and never wavered.

Everything he’s done he’s earned. A talent that should be with the top teams, he’s never given up and to reach 100 starts with the path that it’s taken is a championship in and of it’s own.

Back in 2011, Daly was running a part-time schedule here with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Indy Lights. Prior to this came a karting world championship. In 2008, he won the Skip Barber National Championship. A year later, he was in Star Mazda to where he finished third in points. In 2010, he was with Juncos Racing to where he set a series record with seven wins and nine poles en route to a championship.

That early success set him on a path that he had a tough choice. The American route or the European way. He was so good that he could go in either direction. He chose to dip his toes into both pools. Running part-time here in Indy Lights and in GP3 with Carlin.

In two of his first three races with Schmidt in Indy Lights, he had a pair of top two results. That put him on the map which took him full-time in GP3. He’d be back in GP3 in 2012 and at that time, Daly put his full-time focus there. Good thing too. He won the second race of the season. 11 Top 10 finishes in 16 races run including nine of which in the Top-6 left him sixth in points.

He was back in 2013 with an even better season which one win (Valencia), three runner-ups and five total podiums in 16 starts. He was third in points.

However, during that season, Daly came back over here to the US and made his INDYCAR debut. He raced for AJ Foyt Racing in their Indy only entry and finished 22nd. He did so to show that he wasn’t fully closing the door on an INDYCAR future while also pursuing an F1 path too.

In Europe, it’s more about how much money you have rather than how successful you are. Plus, there’s only so many racing contending rides available. Mix all sides together and you get Daly, while having tons of success, having his funding drying up which led to limited opportunities to continue forward.

2014 took him to GP2 but he didn’t complete the full season. He missed four races at the end of the year. While he returned to the season finale, he started becoming aware that his days were numbered overseas. Without anything for 2015, Daly came back home to look around to see if he could return to something state side.

Ironically enough, Rocky Moran Jr. was injured in a crash during the 2015 Long Beach race weekend. Daly was already on site and Dale Coyne Racing saw what Daly did here four years prior. The tabbed Daly as his replacement. He finished an impressive 17th in his first start in this car that had a new Aerokit on it that wasn’t there in 2013.

That 2011 win led to the 2015 opportunity which led to start No. 100 being on this same track this weekend.

That also led to an Indy return, but one to where his car caught fire before the race even began. Unfortunately, his best friend, James Hinchcliffe, was also severely injured in a practice crash the week leading up to the race too. That led to Daly being picked as Hinchcliffe’s replacement in the doubleheader in Detroit as well as Toronto. He was sixth in Race 2 at Detroit and 12th in Toronto.

5 races for 3 teams in one season.

Coyne saw enough. He brought Daly on full-time in 2016. 5 Top-6 finishes which was highlighted by leading laps on the Indy Road Course and a runner-up finish in Belle Isle led to a strong full campaign for Daly. A year later, he’d move back to Foyt, but this time on a full-time basis.

That was another rocky part of this journey. Foyt was in transition. New engineers. Two new drivers. A move from Honda to Chevrolet. It needed time to gel. Daly benefitted late in the season with four Top-11’s in the final five races.

That offseason he and another good friend, Alexander Rossi, would promote INDYCAR for The Amazing Race. He left thinking he had a ride secured for a second season with Foyt in 2018. However, Foyt while he was gone, pulled the rug out from under him and elected to go with two more new drivers for that season instead. Daly didn’t have his phone with him while on the show. He didn’t know that he didn’t have a seat until he came back home and that was Late Fall/Early wintertime.

It left Daly high and dry. He had very little time to find sponsorship for a full season. Just when he thought he was finding his footing here, it was thrown for a loop.

Instead, Daly turned his focus to just showing up for Indy. It was with Thom Burns Racing who had a partnership with Dale Coyne Racing. The opportunity was enough to keep his name in front of everyone, but the car wasn’t a race winning one. It was a road course car that Daly took to an impressive 21st place finish with.

New team Harding Racing was on the scene and they picked Daly to run for them in Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Pocono. Another part-time year with multiple teams.

That was the next path for Daly. He got a big break to run Indy with Andretti Autosport and Air Force’s back in 2019. He finished 10th. With Max Chilton no longer wanting to run ovals, Carlin picked Daly to do so for their team. He made four starts with them. Then came another replacement role with Schmidt in favor of Marcus Ericsson at Portland. 6 races for 3 different teams.

2020 and 2021 were each with Carlin and this time Ed Carpenter Racing. He’d run all ovals for Carlin minus the Indy 500 but all road/street courses and Indy for ECR. He was back full-time but doing so for two different teams.

2022 he made it work with ECR on a full-time basis. For the second straight year, he had race winning pace in the Indy 500. Now, in his 10th year in INDYCAR, he’s ready for start 100 and it happens to come at Long Beach.

“Last year, we had a very strong race and made some great improvements,” Daly said of last year’s race here. “We were challenging for a Top 10 before I had to make a massive save near the end of the race. This year, we are in a position to make race number 100 be a great one.”

Daly has already competed in the Daytona 500 this year. He’ll do Indy next month. Cheers to 100 and here’s to the next 100.

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