There were no risky race strategies, multi-car pileups, rain or acts of God involved in Conor Daly’s solid run at Road America. The Indiana native, driving for Dale Coyne’s middleweight team, held his own up front among IndyCar’s heavyweights on Sunday, but came up 11 laps short from delivering what could have been his second podium finish this season.
Starting ninth, Daly’s No. 18 Honda moved forward and held sixth for most of the race. A snapped lower left-rear wishbone sent him into the Turn 1 barriers, ruining his day, and without the freak mechanical failure, it’s entirely possible he would have crossed the finish line with his fourth top-six result of the year.
For a rookie on a restricted budget, seeing Daly punching well above his weight was a popular aspect of IndyCar’s return to Road America, which made his premature exit one of the only negatives on a day that was a resounding success for the series.
“We’ve never seen anything like it; it was a clean break with the wishbone,” Daly told RACER. “But it was nice to be up there, up front, without having to do anything special. The car was fast the whole time and we were mixing it up with the Ganassis and Penskes because that’s where we deserved to be. It felt so good, even if the finish isn’t what we’d hoped for.”
Coming off a scary crash two weeks prior in Texas, Daly and DCR were unable to participate in the prerace test at Road America, which left the team well behind on setup data to start the weekend. It made his performance, in concert with the chassis and aerodynamic setup provided by race engineer Michael Cannon, even more remarkable.
“My engineer and I went to the test and just observed,” Daly said. “We were supposed to be there, but we wrote a car off in Texas so we didn’t have a car to test. And we just went around and watched and picked up what we could from seeing the other cars run and I think that helped, believe it or not. We would have rather been there in a car, but it was still a valuable trip for us.”
Finishing 21st was unrepresentative of Daly’s potential on Sunday, but with a podium and a pair of sixth-place results so far, he’s still in the mix for Rookie of the Year honors. Overtaking Andretti Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi in that race will be a challenge with the season winding down, but it isn’t an impossible task.
“Rossi’s looking pretty good right now, and it hurts leaving [Road America] without those points, but all we can do it go to Iowa and Toronto and all the other tracks and do our best to do like we did last weekend. We all know the potential is there within us to do it.”