Conor Daly did everything he needed to do this weekend, filling in for his injured friend James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda on the streets of Detroit.
The American came up only 0.3 shy of advancing out of his group in his first street course qualifying effort with the team on Friday, and was in position for a decent result in the first race of the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend. He got up to fifth but inadvertent contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay set him back to 19th by the checkered flag.
“Sadly, the accordion effect got us. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s fault but we were just the victim,” Daly said.
Sunday provided new hope and for the second straight race, excellent strategy from the pit box and strategist Robert Gue got Daly into the lead by Lap 39.
Daly made two excellent restarts from the point, not losing any ground to the cars behind him or getting swallowed up into Turn 1.
He dropped back in the field after his last pit stop but rose back through the field. He had one hairy moment when called by Race Control for blocking on Lap 61, which dropped him to the back, but recovered to finish P6 by the checkered flag.
“Well, that was very interesting,” Daly said post-race. “Such a crazy race up and down but our car our Arrow car was fantastic the whole time – wet and dry. To lead the race, and to lead the race with the strength that we did, makes me over the moon.
“We got a little bit unlucky with the yellows but to come back and finish sixth, was so great. It was my goal to try and be here at the end of race two. I almost had a tear in my eye because I enjoyed it so much. It was wild and crazy, but I’m just happy to have it here and have a great finish.”
The fact he got the result and led 12 laps on Sunday were bonus factors, but consider what Daly has had to do in the three IndyCar weekends he’s done this year.
In Long Beach, he got drafted in for an injured driver, had his old GP2 firesuit, had never worked with the team or car before (not in this aero package), and had one 45-minute practice session to get acclimated.
In Indianapolis, he finally got a deal done to race with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with a one-off crew, and while he had the month to get acclimated he didn’t even get the opportunity to race with a fire out the back sidelining the “FUELED by BACON” special before the green flag.
This weekend, in Detroit, he was in his third different car and with his third different crew in as many weekends, and he had his best weekend yet.
The last two drivers who raced in three different cars in as many weekends were Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Andretti Autosport, No. 4 Panther Racing, No. 5 Andretti Autosport) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, No. 78 HVM Racing) in 2013 and 2011.
Munoz (Andretti) and Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson) garnered full-time rides the next season.
Daly’s done enough to be listed alongside those two for 2016, if not the balance of this year in the No. 5 car.