The Chance of a Lifetime

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This past Wednesday, we got confirmation of what some of us had been suspecting – that Conor Daly will be driving for Andretti Autosport in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Last year, Daly drove in the “500” for Dale Coyne Racing with sponsorship from the US Air Force. He barely made the field as the slowest qualifier and bumped his way back in late on Saturday. He finished twenty-first and in front of three other cars that were still running at the end. It was not a great result, but still better than twelve other cars in the field and far better than the two drivers that did not qualify and were on the sidelines at the start.

Daly is a popular driver and I heard all through the summer that the Air Force was thrilled with the exposure that they got from their sponsorship. It must have been true, because Daly was able to retain their sponsorship package and shop it around. It has paid off as Daly is now with a team that is always one of the favorites to win the Indianapolis 500. In fact, Andretti Autosport has won three of the past five Indianapolis 500s. The other two were won by Team Penske.

Michael Andretti made it clear that this will complete their lineup for the “500”. Michael Andretti was asked if there would be a sixth car and he indicated that he didn’t see that happening. He also pointed out that his five-car team will be an All-American team. I guess it never dawned on me last season that the Andretti Autosport team of Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, Zach Veach and Ryan Hunter-Reay was made up of nothing but Americans. Adding Daly to the mix in May doesn’t change that claim. What it does do, is partner Daly with his The Amazing Race teammate, Alexander Rossi.

While I suspected that Wednesday’s announcement would be about Conor Daly, I was a little surprised when Michael pretty well ruled out a sixth car. That makes me wonder about the future of Carlos Muñoz; who has been in the last six Indianapolis 500s and has five Top-Ten finishes to show for it. His only non-Top-Ten finish was in 2015, when he finished twentieth yet still finished on the lead lap.

From 2013 to last year; Carlos Muñoz had respective finishes of second, fourth, twentieth, second, tenth and seventh. In 2016, he had plenty of fuel and was charging fast just as the fuel-starved Rossi was taking the checkered flag. Had Rossi sputtered just a half-lap earlier, Muñoz would have won the 100th Running. With his record in the Indianapolis 500, I’m surprised that Michael Andretti is ruling out a sixth car for Carlos Muñoz. Perhaps that is just gamesmanship and he fully expects to sign him once a sponsor is found.

But back to Conor Daly; I am excited to see this happen. Not only because I find Daly to be funny and likeable, but because this gives him a chance to silence the naysayers. I have friends within the IndyCar community that think Daly is overrated as a driver and only garners attention because he is the son of former driver and ESPN analyst Derek Daly and the stepson of IMS President Doug Boles. On the contrary, I think that works against him.

I think sometimes, teams will look elsewhere just to avoid the accusations of cronyism in the paddock. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it reverse snobbery – and it can sometimes come into play. For whatever reason, some fans and possibly team owners seem to think that Daly may have gotten this far based on who his father and stepfather are. I can’t say for certain that sentiment exists among car-owners, but I once heard a driver with no ride express that opinion off the record at one time. I’ve also heard and read fans express those feelings – so I know it’s out there.

When he was in Europe racing against the likes of Rossi and Josef Newgarden, he was held in the same esteem as they were. But here in the states, things have just not worked out for Daly. I find it one of the most perplexing situations, when he has been fast out of the box in the fill-in roles he’s had with various teams – most recently with Harding Racing in the second half of last season, when he had three starts for them. I really thought he would be chosen for that car, but the whole Steinbrenner thing happened with them and Daly was once again on the outside looking in.

The rides he has been able to get were either with lower tier teams, or the last car in the pecking order at mid-level teams. I mean, can you get much lower than the second car at Foyt? Look what that car did for Jack Hawksworth’s career.

When looking at the careers of promising drivers or drivers that didn’t quite reach their potential, it’s always a common theme to say something along the lines of “…well, just imagine what he (or she) could do in a Penske car. He (or she) just never had a chance in good equipment.”

Conor Daly is about to get that chance. In fact, I would call this the chance of a lifetime. His ship has just come in. This could turn out to be a career-defining moment for him. He has joined the most successful team at the Indianapolis 500 over the last five years. Even in not winning last year at Indianapolis, Andretti Autosport cars placed fourth, fifth and seventh. The Andretti engineers have hit on the magic formula at Indianapolis and have produced better results than Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing over the last five races. There is no reason to think their success will wane this year.

If the other four Andretti drivers thrive in practice, qualifying and the race, while Conor Daly struggles – then the naysayers and detractors may be on to something. But I don’t think that will happen. For the first time in his IndyCar career, Conor Daly will have top-rated equipment at his disposal. I have an idea he is going to make the most out of this opportunity and silence his critics forever.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “The Chance of a Lifetime”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I hope Conor does well and shows what he’s capable of. In my eye he’s proven his worth several times and deserves a full-time seat. I’ve bumped into him a few times at the track and he’s always fantastic with the fans.

    I know there’s a few Emma Davies Dixon fans here, so here’s something to start your Friday morning off right. 🙂

  2. But what has happened to Stephen Wilson? He had a shot at the win, late , in last year’s 500. Come on Michael, sixth car?

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I don’t think it is nepotism that places Daly in an outsize position in Indycar promotions relative to his race results so much as it is the fact that he is local, single, easy to get ahold of, and game for most anything they want to do. Scott Dixon has a wife and kids, a secure ride, sponsor obligations, etc. He has time sometimes. Conor has time ALL the time.

    Conor has definitely worked hard for this opportunity and I hope he does well. Not as well as Rahal, but well nevertheless.

  4. Much as I like Conor, this is the time he will have to rise to the equipment he’ll be running. I have suspected at times that he lacks judgement at IMS, having put his nose into impossible positions on at least two occasions.

    He’s great for the sport, he’s great for the series, but the ball is in his court. He needs to run fast, run clean, and bring the car home in 1 piece to convince me that he is the talent that we have all seen in flashes elsewhere.

  5. Here’s Conor’s big chance to shine and I sincerely hope he can show what he can do in a good car. I have faith in him.

  6. Conor Daly has always seemed to me as more of a road racer than an oval guy, yet he outperformed his Foyt Racing teammate Carlos Munoz at Gateway 2 years ago when they both scored Top 10 finishes in arguably that team’s best race that season. Michael Andretti probably noticed this.

    Since Carlos Munoz drove the 2nd Schmidt car in the final 2 rounds of last year’s championship, it would not surprise me to see him in the 3rd Schmidt entry at the Indy 500 this year.

    Is there going to be another episode of “One Take Only” forthcoming? It’s been way too long since the previous one.

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