Conor Daly’s NASCAR Cup debut was filled with more than a few visits by the cartoon anvil to his No. 50 The Money Team Racing Chevy.
If it weren’t for the cockpit fire and two blown tires, the NTT IndyCar Series veteran might have ended with something better than a run to 34th place, but Sunday’s event held on the Charlotte Roval will be chalked up to a learning experience instead of one where the Indiana native got to put his road racing expertise to good use and charge through the field.
Making his first appearance on the roval, Daly went into the race with a bare minimum of time spent in the comparatively hefty car before the green flag waved over the Bank of America 400. Thanks to a failure in the car’s steering system that send the Hoosier into the wall, he started last and used the hours-long race as the place where he got to learn the car, track, and the field of 38 rivals.
“Everyone is really good; there’s no days where Boris Said jumped in and did really well, or Marcos Ambrose and stuff like that back in the day,” Daly said, dispelling the notion of road course ‘ringers’ still being able to come and prey on NASCAR’s oval drivers. “We needed the laps to get up to speed. You know, Kimi Raikkonen and Mike Rockenfeller, those guys have done some test days of VIR and they got a little bit of time in the car before [going racing]. We didn’t really get anything. And then the steering shaft decided to not work. There was a bit of an error in that system and lost all steering, which meant that we had to miss qualifying and I did about five laps before the race. Tough to jump into a situation like that.
“But as the race went on, it became more fun. Interesting event, for sure. But I’m still processing, still trying to enjoy the good moments of it. The last couple restarts, just to still be out there and seeing all the absolute chaos that was taking place was something I’ll never forget as well.”
With more laps completed, Daly found a rhythm that allowed him to run with the likes of Martin Truex, Brad Keselowski, and Chase Briscoe. He was among those drivers, and others later in the event, after experiencing tire failures and more that cost a few laps while seeking service and repair from the crew led by Tony Eury Jr.
“The interesting thing about this car and obviously the tire; the tire gets a lot of flack, and to be fair, I have never experienced [flat-spotting a tire],” he said. “The first flat left front I got was I had to pass J.J. Yeley on the outside [of the chicane on the back straight]. And I feel like there was some debris out there as well, and as soon as I got out onto the oval, the tire just delaminated and exploded. And I was like, well, I feel like you should be able to do a little bit more [of a flat-spot] than that.
“So, we were finally adjusting tire pressures and some chassis things that we could do. And then we really started going because once I got past J.J., and then I passed Mike Rockenfeller, I was like, ‘All right, these guys know what they’re doing.’ I knew that we were quicker than at least three or four other cars in front of us because I caught them before the stage ended previously. And then again, when I passed Mike, there was a big traffic situation and I had gotten to the brakes late into the final chicane, just locked the left front.
“And literally the next lap, the left front exploded, again in the same place like in oval (turns) three, four. So a bit surprising as to why that would happen. But I had never locked a tire in that car before so I don’t know what it can take and what it can so sadly, it was kind of a bit of a rough learning experience. In fact, I thought we were faster than [Truex] so that was kind of a cool experience for me and then and we had a small fire in the cockpit, which I had to pit again for. We then we were kind of a little bit further back, but still kept on going.”
The tale from watching his dash burst into flames is a classic.
“It was electrical because I could see it was it was the rear-view camera — just basically started sparking — and every time it sparked it would set something on fire,” he continued. “So there was a lot of smoke and an actual flame. I could see the flame flat out in the banking and one and two, and it’s like you’re watching a campfire slowly get gasoline poured on it. And I was like, ‘Well, that’s weird.’ And it was very sparky.
“I was like, ‘Well, it’s probably not great.’ I told [Eury Jr], ‘I’m on fire in the car.’ And they were like, ‘Well, you should probably stop.’ I was like, ‘I mean, it’s not bad.’ Like, I don’t know what’s a bad fire to stop for and what is a bad fire to stop? Because I’ve seen a lot of Cup cars catch on fire this year and I was like, ‘That doesn’t look fun at all.’
“So eventually I did stop. And it’s not like there was an open flame when I stopped. But when my crew guy got in there to try to figure it out, it was started sparking again and almost setting other things on fire. They ended up just cutting the wires. So then I had no rear view camera the rest of the race, which meant I couldn’t really see anything, but after that, that was our last problem.”
BitNile, Daly’s primary sponsor in IndyCar, made the NASCAR Cup debut possible. Given the chance, he’d like to give it another go. Minus the cartoon anvils, of course.
“The only reason I was there is because we had a sponsor,” he said. “BitNile has been so super supportive of me; [CEO] Todd Ault and all of his companies that are that are under his umbrella. And the only reason I still have a career and the only reason I get to do all this stuff is they’re using it for their business. And it’s doing great things for them.
“I just talked to Todd last night, and he’s like, ‘We want to win the Indy 500. We want to win IndyCar races.’ But he’s also like, ‘I would love to see you in NASCAR races,’ so I said, ‘Hey, that’s great. I’ll drive anything, anywhere, anytime.’ And to be honest, like, with how little time that I had in that car, I felt pretty good about where we were in the middle of that race. You know, it’s never going to be easy, right? But if we were running lap times [in the] top 15, top 20, that would be somewhat good.”
Catch the full interview below: