One of the more interesting undercurrents this season can be found with Conor Daly’s rise at Ed Carpenter Racing.
Leaving the fourth race of the year at Barber Motorsports Park, Daly was mired down in P19 in the championship and watched with frustration and envy as ECR teammate Rinus VeeKay stood on the podium and claimed his best finish of the year which promoted the Dutchman to seventh in the standings.
Fortunes would change between the two during the month of May where Daly claimed fifth at the Indianapolis road course and sixth at the Indy 500 while VeeKay endured back-to-back hardships. Leaving the Speedway, the ECR drivers swapped places in the championship with Daly holding P12 to VeeKay’s P13.
The trend has continued in June with Daly leading the team home at Detroit and again last weekend at Road America. Although ECR has lost a step or two to its rivals since May, Daly has taken a step forward in his first full-season opportunity with the team in the No. 20 Chevy. With three runs to P18 in the championship and a career-best of P17 produced in 2020, his current station at P13, one spot ahead of VeeKay, has Daly playing among some of IndyCar’s biggest names.
Through eight NTT IndyCar Series races, the Indiana native has been the first ECR car to reach the finish line on five occasions, and with the likes of Romain Grosjean, Colton Herta and Simon Pagenaud sitting directly ahead of him in the standings, the Hoosier is quietly assembling his best body of work to date.
“It does feel like one of my strongest years, but we don’t obviously have trophies to show for it yet,” Daly told RACER. “But I think we’ve definitely been competitive and that’s really positive as we take on the second half of the season.
“Before the month of May, there were a couple of races that hurt us like Texas, especially, where we had another good result coming until some issues came up that were out of our control. Obviously, the first three or four races were tough; nothing to write home about yet. But I think we as a team knew where we were gaining and what was going on. They’ve been working with me to get things closer to what I need and they’ve definitely put in a lot of work on the simulator to get us here.
“Even if it’s improving in qualifying at let’s say Long Beach by three positions, and then finishing 12th in the race, that was a big day for us. And 12th doesn’t sound great, but that’s a big improvement over when we were there the last time, and our race pace has been remarkably better. But we want to be finishing in the top 10 consistently and get to being in the Fast Six more consistently. We’re trying to get to that next level.”
Among Daly’s finer character traits, he isn’t prone to offering false praise or setting unrealistic expectations for himself or his team. It makes his genuine expression of optimism for the second half of the season and all that’s possible with the No. 20 Chevy as something that’s rather rare for the 30-year-old.
“I think we have to be proud where we are at the moment because there’s so many good drivers in this series now,” he said. “You look and there’s 26 full-time drivers and we are in the front half, so that’s a good thing. And when I look at the next few tracks, I definitely can’t wait to get to Iowa — right, that’s two races where I know I’ve had some success in the past and there’s a lot of points to be gained there.
“I love oval racing, so Gateway, can’t wait to get there; but those are two places that I’ve yet to go with this team, so we’ll see how that goes. We put in a lot of work on the simulator at Mid-Ohio as well. But it definitely feels good to be fighting with that group of drivers I’m around. I am obviously very familiar with how Romain and Colton and Simon are talked about, and even how my teammate Rinus is talked about and how he’s a very popular free agent.
“Obviously, I’m past that point in my career to be talked about like Rinus, unless I started winning everything, but it is nice to be hitting a good stride here. Because all I want to do is beat these guys and be as competitive as I think I can be.”
Daly, VeeKay, and ECR welcomed Paretta Autosport and Simona De Silvestro to the team at Road America in the first of a three-race partnership that expands ECR out to a three-car operation. Daly expects the Swiss veteran to strengthen the team as it looks to break out of the midfield.
“I definitely gotta give her credit; it’s so tough to jump in right now in the middle of the year, especially a road course when it’s been so long since she’s raced on one [in IndyCar],” he said. “I think she did a great job, and we knew right out the gate that Road America was going to be a struggle for all of us on the team. But she just hung in there and it’s been great having her as part of the team.
“She’s very talented and I think we’ll obviously see continual improvement as she keeps getting more and more experience in this current generation of Indy car. I like where we’re going with the three of us and I know there’s more to show.”