Hard Work Finally Gets Rewarded

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A lot of the offseason moves have involved either popular drivers losing their rides very late in the game, or unproven foreign drivers getting rides. It’s about time that we had some good news regarding a very popular driver getting a good ride in the NTT IndyCar Series for the 2020 season.

On Monday morning, we learned that Conor Daly was confirmed for the Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) No. 20 car for the non-ovals. He will also be in a third ECR car for the Indianapolis 500. That’s about as close to a fulltime ride as Daly can get without being on the grid for all seventeen races next season. That means that Daly will compete in all but four races of the 2020 season. Since he is only missing four ovals, Daly will not sit out a race until the series visits Texas Motor Speedway in June.

It appears that Daly will be bringing the Air Force sponsorship to the team. How that will appear on the car remains to be seen. They may be the primary sponsor when Daly is in the car or an associate sponsor for the whole season. I doubt that they will be on the sidepods when Ed Carpenter is in the car, but you never know.

That technically makes Daly a “ride buyer” but make no mistake – Conor Daly has earned this ride.

Conor Daly has been paying his dues in IndyCar since 2013, when he had a ride in the Indianapolis 500 with AJ Foyt. He spent most of 2013 and 2014 overseas in various racing series, but drove in five races in the 2015 season – one for Dale Coyne and four with Sam Schmidt. In my opinion, his most impressive drive was when he was called by Coyne to sub at the last minute at Long Beach for Rocky Moran, Jr., who broke his thumb in practice. The stat sheet shows that Daly finished seventeenth, but he kept his nose clean and brought the car home in one piece with essentially no practice time in the car. That was the day that Conor Daly got my attention.

It apparently got Dale Coyne’s attention because he put Daly in one of his cars for the full 2016 season. The results were not good, but he did manage a second-place finish at Belle Isle, a fourth at Watkins Glen and three other sixth-place finishes.

The next season saw Daly drive the second car at Foyt for the full season, while being teamed up with Carlos Muñoz. It did not go well for either driver and both were summarily kicked to the curb after the season. The firing took place while Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi were overseas competing in The Amazing Race. I’ve always been a fan of AJ and Larry Foyt, but I thought this was not handled well and I thought they were making scapegoats out of two good drivers. The results at Foyt since then, has proven that theory to be correct.

As is usually the case, when drivers leave Foyt – it was slim pickings for both drivers. Muñoz drove once since then – in the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Daly has hustled and made himself available anytime a driver was either injured, fired or generally unavailable; and squeezed eleven races out of the past two seasons.

When Harding Racing decided to move away from Gabby Chaves in 2018, they turned to Conor Daly for three races. It wasn’t spectacular, but he managed a thirteenth and fifteenth out of a car that had done nothing for most of the season.

This past season, Daly drove in seven races for three different teams. His Indianapolis 500 plans with Andretti Autosport were announced early on, so he spent the first couple of months of the season with them. Immediately after Indianapolis, Max Chilton announced he no longer wanted to run the ovals. Daly climbed into the car at Texas and finished eleventh in a car that had been putting up dismal results prior to Texas – very similar to what he did for Harding the previous year.

Daly drove in four oval races for Carlin this past season. His results were the aforementioned eleventh at Texas, thirteenth at Iowa, eleventh at Pocono and sixth at Gateway. Those were pretty much the only bright spots in a dismal season at Carlin.

At the end of the season, there were rumors that Daly might have his choice of fulltime rides for 2020. Before Colton Herta was confirmed in a fifth Andretti car, some thought he had performed well enough at Indianapolis and Laguna Seca to merit the full season. Knowing that Colton Herta was most likely headed there, I didn’t think that Michael Andretti had any intention of running six cars; so I considered that a long shot.

But I did think that Carlin was a definite possibility for Conor Daly. What is not clear is, who said no to whom? Did Carlin tell Daly that he did not figure into their plans for 2020; or were they still interested in Daly and he considered the ECR ride a better deal? I have no idea how much, if any, interest Carlin had in Daly – but if they were interested, I still think Daly made the right choice.

While many think that Trevor Carlin is going to eventually figure out the NTT IndyCar Series, he hasn’t done it yet. Their fans point out that they have succeeded in every series they have raced in. That may be true, but they aren’t anywhere close to figuring out IndyCar – not yet, anyway. I really think with their revolving door of drivers and their lack of funding – they took a step backwards in 2019 compared to their inaugural season in 2018.

Conor Daly will turn twenty-eight this Sunday. While that sounds young to many of us, he is getting on up there in IndyCar years. He doesn’t have time to be patient enough for Carlin to figure things out. He has spent his time with small, under-funded teams. ECR has always been on the lean side of things, but they have their cars figured out – especially at Indianapolis.

I have always thought it was a matter of time before an ECR car won the Indianapolis 500. Last year, there were three Ed Carpenter cars capable of winning. Unfortunately, none of them were near the front at the end. Ed Carpenter has always been a sentimental favorite to win the Indianapolis 500, but next year he will have competition – both in driver ability and sentimentality.

While driving for Andretti Autosport last May, Conor Daly finally proved he can run with the best of them. His tenth-place finish was actually a disappointment, because he had been running in the Top-Five for most of the day. With one year of running the Indianapolis 500 in good equipment under his belt, I think Conor Daly will be a legitimate threat to win next year’s Indianapolis 500. Of course, others will have some thing to say about that, including his own teammates.

By missing the four non-Indy ovals on the schedule, Conor Daly will not be a threat to win the championship. That may be good for him. He won’t have the pressure of where he sits in the standings. All he will be doing is going for wins.

Daly is a Hoosier native. Although Ed Carpenter was born in Illinois, he has spent most of his life in Indiana growing up in the shadows of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both Daly and Carpenter understand how much the race means, and it makes one wonder why it took this long for the two to finally get together.

After seeing big bad McLaren come in and throw their weight around at the team formerly known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, watching James Hinchcliffe and Sébastien Bourdais get tossed onto the trash heap, and rookies and unproven drivers getting decent rides – it’s good to see someone who has paid their dues and gone through hard times, get rewarded. I think I’ll be pulling for ECR just a little bit harder next season.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Hard Work Finally Gets Rewarded”

  1. James T Suel Says:

    George this is no doubt the best thing to come out of this off season. I also believe Daly will shine. As you said, he has earned it!!

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Good for Daly. Whatever your opinion of his driving skills, it is clear that he wants to be in Indycar and works very hard to make that happen. I wish him the best.

    • Billy, I just saw an erroneous comment you made on Robin Miller’s Mailbag today regarding the tax situation and the IMS. Indiana allowed the IMS to keep its sales taxes they generate for 20 years; the citizens of our state are not giving any money to The Track unless they purchase something there. This has been irresponsibly reported on, or not reported at all, which makes folks think the IMS is getting a cut of our tax dollars when they are not.

      I would’ve commented on the actual story thread but I’ve been banned from commenting on racer articles for years now. I’m too controversial, lol!!!

      Phil Kaiser
      Thru Kaiser’s Visor

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