Conor Daly
Getty Images

Daly hopes strong Indy 500 performance leads to more racing

1 Comment

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.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

Leave a comment

MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”