The Emergence of Conor Daly

Photo Credit: IndyCar

Conor Daly, 24, has driven in the Verizon IndyCar Series periodically since 2013, when he raced in the Indianapolis 500 for AJ Foyt Enterprises. Last season, he raced at the Indianapolis 500 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and then filled in for the injured James Hinchcliffe at 3 more races after Indianapolis for the team.

This season was different, however. The 24-year-old from Noblesville, Indiana scored himself a full-time ride with Dale Coyne Racing driving a Honda-powered car. He only sits in 17th place out of 20 full-time drivers in the championship, but don’t let that deceive you. Driving for one of the series’ smallest teams is challenging enough, but add to it the fact that Daly’s teammates change from race to race, as owner Dale Coyne switches out drivers regularly in his other car. Not only does Daly have all of that to deal with, but as I mentioned before, he drives a Honda-powered car. Since Chevrolet re-entered the series in 2012, drivers of the Chevrolet-powered cars have won 54 races, while the drivers of the Honda-powered cars have only won 26 races. As you can see, Daly does not have it easy driving in a Honda-powered car for a small team without a real teammate, much less a top-notch veteran mentor of a teammate.

In Daly’s first four Verizon IndyCar Series races, his top finish was 17th place, which was at Long Beach in 2015. In his 14 races since then, Daly has placed in the top 6 on 5 different occasions and has a career-best 2nd place finish at Detroit, where in 3 races, he has never finished lower than 6th place.

Over the course of Daly’s last 14 races, not only has he placed in the top 6 in 5 of them, but he has led laps in 6 of them for a total of 68 laps led. In the 12 races so far this season, Daly has led laps in 5 of them for a total of 56 laps led. Those 56 laps led rank as the 7th most laps led among this year’s IndyCar drivers.

Dale Coyne is one of the best race strategists in the sport, so that is one factor that has helped Daly get up to the front so much. But unlike many of Coyne’s past drivers, Daly has been able to deliver the results on a regular basis. The last time Dale Coyne guided one of his cars to victory lane was in Houston in 2014, when Carlos Huertas took the checkered flag after stretching out his final fuel stint in a rain-shortened race. That win, however, is Huertas’ only top 7 finish in his 21 career Verizon IndyCar Series races. So despite not having won a race yet, Daly has 5 top 6 finishes over his past 14 races, which is far more consistent than many of Coyne’s past drivers.

Daly also leads this year’s Tag Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” standings, which measure how many spots drivers have moved up relative to their starting positions, and he is doing it as a rookie. He has moved up a total of 70 positions thus far this season, which is 4 positions more than Graham Rahal, who sits in 2nd place having gained 66 spots. Daly also sits in 2nd place in this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, behind only Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi.

Unfortunately, Daly has had his share of bad luck and just flat-out bad weekends, which is why he is buried in 17th in the championship. He was leading at St. Petersburg this season before getting passed by Juan Pablo Montoya, and that is when that race spun out of control for Daly and he ended up finishing in 13th.

Daly also crashed this season at the Indianapolis 500, a race where he has never finished higher than 22nd place. Daly was then running in 2nd place at Texas when the terrible accident with Josef Newgarden occurred. Later in the month of June, it was announced that Daly, like Newgarden, would not be allowed to continue in the Texas race when it resumes on Saturday, August 27th.

More bad luck for Daly occurred at Road America. After having run in the top 9 all day long, Daly came around turn 1 late in the race, and something broke on his car, sending him into the barrier, and ending what would’ve been yet another impressive run for the rookie.

Despite these misfortunes, Daly continues to drive hard every race, and he usually finishes farther up than where he started. It is clear that he has the talent to be a star in the series, and he has proven that by delivering some solid race results to a rather small team with an engine and aero kit that doesn’t quite match up with those of the top teams such as Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing. However, if Daly keeps driving like he is driving right now for Dale Coyne Racing, he could end up driving for a team like Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, since many of those teams’ drivers are nearing retirement. Only time will tell.

-Asher Fair

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