INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Conor Daly needed a solid Indianapolis 500 result to help jump-start his IndyCar career.
A top-10 finish can’t hurt – and it might even lead to some more work this season.
The 27-year-old American stayed near the lead pack through most of Sunday’s race before a surprise ruling and a miscue on a late restart shuffled him to a 10th-place finish in his only scheduled race this season.
Now comes the hard part: Seeing if a career-best Indy finish pays off.
“I never really know what is good enough,” he said. “You know we’ve been on podiums, we’ve run around passing the most cars in a year and led laps. Winning helps, obviously, and we haven’t done that. I don’t what’s enough but I’m not going to go away. I really want to run here full-time.”
Daly certainly turned some heads with what was easily his best finish in six Indy starts. His previous best came last year when Daly finished all but one lap and wound up 21st.
But with one of the series’ top teams and perhaps the best car he’s ever had on Indy’s 2.5-mile oval, it didn’t take Daly long to understand how different things could be this May.
He was near the top of the speed charts in practice and qualified 11th last weekend. Things didn’t change much on race day when he quickly started passing cars and moving up the leaderboard.
With 32 laps to go, he was fourth and Daly was still in contention when five cars were involved in a messy crash on Lap 178. Two laps later, the red flag came out and when the race restarted on Lap 187, officials had reordered Takuma Sato to move in front of Daly, who made his only real mistake on the restart when his gears got stuck as he tried to accelerate.
Otherwise, the son of former race-car driver Derek Daly and the stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles drove almost flawlessly.
“He did a great job all month,” team owner Michael Andretti said. “And really I kind of screwed him up. We told our guys if they can get the front wing (adjustment) in, do it. I should have told them leave the front wing alone and it cost him like three spots. Otherwise he would have been right there with Alex (Rossi),” who finished second to Simon Pagenaud.
Still, it was a promising result for a guy who appeared to be a rising star when he earned his first full-time IndyCar ride in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing. After producing two top-five finishes and five top-10s that season, he moved to A.J. Foyt Racing where he had one top-five and four more top-10s in 2017.
Then things dried up.
He made four IndyCar starts last year with Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Coyne, and one start in NASCAR’s Xfinifty Series while losing his primary sponsor because of a racially insensitive remark his father, who is from Ireland, allegedly made decades earlier.
Daly’s most recent races came in April at Barber Motorsports Park where he drove to victory lane in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo sports car series. He didn’t finish a second race at Barber, and with no more races on this year’s docket, hopes Sunday’s result could give lead to another chance in the IndyCar Series.
“You never really know when a shot like this will come with a team like this,” the Andretti Autosport driver said. “I just wish we could be here more often.”
And at least one team is already trying to help Daly.
“We hope so,” Andretti said when asked if Daly might run more races with the team this season. “We’re working on a few things.”