Last Sunday at the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Conor Daly finished 13th, but it was one of the best days of his professional racing career, maybe even of his life.
He led laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something he hadn’t done in seven previous starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. In fact, he led the most laps of the race, 40. It was bad luck. It was a product of Daly having a fast racing car throughout the month.
“What an incredible feeling,” he said. “We have a lot to be proud of, for sure.”
Aided by a warning on lap 34 for the Stefan Wilson pit lane incident, Daly gained the track position and drove his US Air Force No.47 Chevrolet from a starting 19th position to the ‘before.
It was a moment that Daly said he would carry with him for the rest of his life. On lap 50, he chased his teammate Rinus VeeKay in the No.21 Chevrolet Bitcoin down the home stretch. Approaching Turn 3, Daly moved inward to take the lead.
The socially remote crowd of 135,000 viewers – 40% of capacity – erupted into cheers that drowned advertisers on NBC. The crowd was delighted to see one of the pilots from his hometown take the lead. Daly is originally from Noblesville, a suburb of Indianapolis, and lives in Indy.
Daly kept the lead until lap 70 and again led from lap 84-102.
“Of course (I’m happy),” he said. “But there is only one turn that matters. I had so much fun. I watched the video of me taking the lead and almost started to cry. I heard (the crowd) in the video. This event means a lot to me. I will remember it forever.
Daly relinquished the lead on lap 102 for a green flag pitstop cycle. As the pit stops ended, Daly was positioned to continue running close to the front.
But Daly’s signature bad luck, which he insists follows him wherever he goes, has struck in one of the most unpredictable ways.
On lap 119, Graham Rahal gave up the lead in the pits. Upon returning to the track at Turn 2, the left rear wheel of Rahal’s # 15 Honda United Rentals came loose, sending the driver storming into the SAFER barrier.
The tire crossed the race track and bounced off the SAFER barrier. He then hopped onto the race track and into the race line of Daly’s silver and red car. At 200 mph, Daly could do nothing but hit the tire with his front wing and nose cone.
“The reason we weren’t (competing at the end) is the cause of that there,” he said. “This giant tire has just taken off from the sky. I had no idea. It’s normal for me with a flying tire ruining our race. We just had to work with what we had. Our car started to understeer a lot.
The tire left a black mark on the front fender and nose of his car, but the impact was bigger than that. Daly said his Ed Carpenter Racing team were forced to make rear wing adjustments for the remainder of the race as handling changed dramatically. Still, he recovered a 13th place in the lead round – the second-best result of his Indy 500 career.
More importantly, Daly feels like he has proven that, in the right situation and with a little less bad luck, he can compete for victories in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“It was nice to be in front,” he said. “I think we’ve proven that we can be up there and run with these guys.”
Daly is looking to ride the Indianapolis momentum in the upcoming NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in the Chevrolet Dual Dual Program in Detroit, the flagship races of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 12 and 13 at Belle Isle in Detroit. Both races can be seen live on NBC.
Daly will return in the US Air Force’s No. 20 Chevrolet driven by team owner Ed Carpenter in oval races. He hasn’t raced on the Detroit street circuit since 2017, but it is the site of his only NTT INDYCAR SERIES podium, a second place finish in 2016.
Combine the incredible feeling of running for the lead in the racing capital of the world with the optimism of heading to the race track where you had your career best result, and Daly loves where it is.
Now if he can just get lucky.