Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Conor Daly joins Ed Carpenter Racing for partial 2020 season

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After racing on a part-time basis for five different teams in the last two years, Conor Daly has finally found a new home at Ed Carpenter Racing.

Daly will compete for ECR in 13 of the 17 NTT IndyCar Series events next season, driving the No. 20 Chevrolet on the road and street courses, as well as completing the team’s three-car Indianapolis 500 effort.

“As an Indiana kid, it just feels right to be getting a chance with Ed Carpenter Racing,” Daly said. “This team has done such an incredible job over the years and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ed and this group. I look forward to entering a season feeling fully prepared with simulator time and testing for the first time in several years.”

Daly, who has been out of a full-time IndyCar ride since being released from A.J. Foyt Racing following the 2017 season, will once again bring sponsorship from the U.S. Air Force in 2020. The military branch first sponsored Daly in the 2018 Indy 500, and returned again this season to sponsor Daly at both Indy and Laguna Seca.

“I am so thankful for the loyalty the U.S. Air Force has demonstrated along with the faith in me to get the job done,” Daly said. “This has been an incredible relationship to see grow and get stronger as we continue to add races to our program. I couldn’t be happier to be getting one more step closer to full time Indy car competition.”

With Daly running on the road and street courses, team owner Ed Carpenter will once again pilot the No. 20 entry on the ovals. The duo will be joined by 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay, who will compete full-time in the No. 21 Chevy.

“I am extremely proud and excited to welcome Conor Daly and the U.S. Air Force to Ed Carpenter Racing!” Carpenter said. “I have seen Conor grow and mature over the course of his career and am confident that his best years are yet to come.

“It is a huge honor to represent the men and women who serve in the U.S. Air Force and we hope to make them proud this season.”

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NHRA to expand field sizes for 2020 Countdown playoffs

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Field sizes for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs could substantially increase for the upcoming 2020 season, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

The previous standard to qualify for the playoffs was the top 10 ranked drivers following the last regular season race before the Countdown begins, the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis. That standard remains in place.

Now, in light of Wednesday’s announcement, additional drivers in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car “Nitro” classes will be eligible for the six-race Countdown playoffs if they compete in all 18 regular season events and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each of those 18 events.

Given that most of the 18 NHRA regular season events have as many as four qualifying sessions, the new expanded field could potentially add several Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to the Countdown field. For example, if there are 16 full-time teams that compete in all 18 regular season races for the upcoming season, all 16 teams will likely qualify for the playoffs.

If those additional drivers meet the new standard, their point standings will also be reset after the U.S. Nationals, as has always been the case for the top 10 Countdown qualifiers.

Changes will also take place in Countdown qualifying for Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have smaller season schedules than their counterparts in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 13-race regular season, additional Pro Stock drivers who have competed in all 13 prior events as well as took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will be eligible for the Countdown.

Because it contests only an 18-race overall season schedule, Pro Stock’s portion of the Countdown is only five races, rather than six as in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, which has a 16-race overall season schedule, in addition to those being ranked in the top 10 after the U.S. Nationals following the 11-race regular season, riders who have competed in all 11 regular season events and took part in a minimum of two qualifying sessions in each of those events will also be eligible for the Countdown.

As in Top Fuel and Funny Car, all Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle drivers/riders that qualify for the Countdown after the U.S. Nationals will have their points reset.

Speaking of points being reset, the NHRA also announced that heading into the Countdown, Top Fuel and Funny Car will see first and second place be separated by 20 points, while each subsequent position will be separated by a 10-point differential.

In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first and second place heading into the Countdown will be separated by 20 points, while second through fifth place will be separated by 10 points and all positions below fifth place will be separated by five points.

And has been the case in the past, all drivers/riders that reach the Auto Club Finals season-ending race will earn points-and-a-half for qualifying and each round run.

According to a NHRA media release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.”

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