ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Conor Daly led 15 laps (Laps 49-63) in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, as the first non-Team Penske race leader of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
He’d have been in position for a possible win and a more likely podium or top-five finish after a typically brilliant strategic call from the Coyne team.
However, two pit stops within five laps on Laps 80 and 84 doomed his chances when it appeared he’d done enough fuel saving in the second stint, on Firestone’s red alternate tires, to end higher than he ultimately ended.
He finished 13th after starting 20th.
With TV unable to have caught the impact, Daly explained what damaged his race, and it wound up being another car.
“I came out right in front of Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) and right in front of (Carlos) Munoz,” Daly told NBC Sports. “And Hinch, I thought was a few laps down. I didn’t know if he would challenge, because I was fighting at the front.
“But he dove down inside into (Turn) 4, and I was gonna sort of let him have it, then Munoz went around the outside. We were three-wide into 4 and Munoz is on the outside, and came straight down into both of us. I must have clipped him, and honestly I have no idea what happened because I clipped the inside curb and the wheel came out of my hands. I thought the wing’s broken.
“But then we just overheated. A piece of either his car or our car came in the radiator, and we had to make another pit stop.”
The second stop on Lap 84 – Daly’s fourth of the day after others on 13, 41 and 80 – was the damning one that took him out of contention.
In the middle stint, on the reds, Daly said his car came alive. He also was able to save enough fuel during the several-car accident on Lap 57 that caused the second yellow flag to get back on sequence, although there, Juan Pablo Montoya’s pass of Simon Pagenaud for second place was the de facto net pass for the lead behind him. Montoya got Daly again on Lap 64.
“It was interesting because on the first restart, Tony (Kanaan) tried to hit me down the front straight, trying to punt me, which was odd,” Daly said.
“The restart zone is super late, and so it caused for a big gaggle. The first time it elongated the cars and created some separation.
“But then Montoya was on the overtake and I didn’t use it. That was my mistake. Either way we had to save fuel. We had to save fuel. But it was nice to keep up with those guys.
“The car was fantastic on reds compared to blacks. It was good enough to where we could save fuel, roll speed into the corner and keep our times up. We made 3.2 miles per gallon, which is pretty good, all while keeping up with Juan. There’s not a better coach to keep up with!”
Daly then fell into a battle – incidentally – with fellow American rookie Alexander Rossi for 12th. Rossi prevailed as he was just better on the final stint in his No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda.
“In the end, I had no rear traction. We were really bad on the blacks. I would have lked to have got him on the last lap. I made some mistakes. All in all he was struggling, but I was worse.”
Nonetheless, Daly put in an impressive drive in his first start as a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver, and you figure if similar type drives follow the results will too.