After taking Carlin to their best finish of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season so far, Conor Daly has stated that he is “super happy” with sixth place in last weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Daly spent much of Saturday night’s race battling with some of the top teams and drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series right now, despite having started down in eighteenth place in a usually slower car.
Conor entered the weekend having made four starts this season, three of which coming with Carlin after the team picked him up to race the #59 Chevrolet in the remaining oval races after Max Chilton announced after failing to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 that he would no longer be competing on ovals due to safety. Daly raced at Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway and took two eleventh-place finishes and a thirteenth-place finish at Iowa.
Daly was severely harmed by how early his run came in qualifying on Friday night. With the oval qualifying order set by the reverse of the championship points, Daly was the first to make a run in qualifying and subsequently had to deal with not only the worst of the track conditions of the session, but also with a lack of grip caused by ‘speedy dry’ that had been laid down on the track after an oil spill prior to the session.
As a result, Daly would qualify down in eighteenth place, which was retrospectively an impressive effort as he had outqualified his team-mate, Charlie Kimball, the two A.J. Foyt Enterprises drivers of Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist as well as the Andretti Autosport driver, Marco Andretti; all of whom had made their laps after Conor and would have, therefore, had better track conditions.
Whilst Daly’s grid position was not ideal, it appeared as though the speed of his #59 Chevrolet in race trim was promising. In final practice, held after qualifying on Friday, Daly would end the session as the fastest driver.
Having learned a lot in final practice, Daly was quick to start making his way up through the order. He found himself in the top ten after a relatively short amount of time and then spent much of the race battling inside the top six with drivers such as Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud, Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s Colton Herta and his good friend, Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi.
Sadly for Daly, as had been the case for a number of drivers during Saturday night’s race, the timing of a number of cautions during the race went against him. The final caution may have done the most damage, as Conor had been running in what would have become fourth place after the pit-stop cycle had shaken out, but a crash for Sebastien Bourdais saw Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden gain a free pit-stop on the rest of the field, thus pushing Conor down to seventh place for the restart.
In the closing laps, Conor did not have the tyre grip to challenge those in front of him, with Sato, Carpenter and Kanaan taking the podium spots on their fresher tyres. Daly would gain one position in the closing laps due to a late pit-stop for Rossi. As a result, Conor would take the chequered flag in sixth place.
Despite the disappointment of having lost a potential top five finish due to the ill-timed caution, the result was still the best finish for Carlin in 2019 so far; with the previous best having been Patricio O’Ward‘s eighth-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas.
In post-race interviews, Daly admitted that he had thought that a podium finish had been on the cards for him. However, despite that, Daly stated that he was “super happy” with the result and “thankful” to Carlin for giving him the chance to drive their #59 Chevrolet.
“I’m super happy with our result tonight,” Daly said after Saturday night’s race, “The No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet was so strong and consistent the entire night. We just kept fine-tuning it and making it even better every time we came into pit lane. Anytime we got in clean air we made progress and we were able to run people down.
“I really thought we were going to be on the podium tonight and that’s really hard to take. The strategy game of INDYCAR is just crazy and we just got a little bit unlucky, but to be unlucky and finish sixth is pretty awesome.
“I’m thankful to close out this oval run with Carlin on such a high note and thankful to Gallagher for giving me a chance to show what I could do for their program with Carlin.”
Saturday night’s race was Daly’s last outing for Carlin this season. Max Chilton will be back behind the wheel of the #59 car for the final two races of the season at Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. However, Daly will be on the grid for the season-finale at Laguna Seca, as he will be back driving a fifth car for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from the United States Air Force; who also sponsored Daly’s #25 Andretti Honda back at the Indianapolis 500.
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, September 1. Daly will be back on the grid at Laguna Seca for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, September 22.