Conor Daly didn’t race his way into the Daytona 500 the way he wanted to, but Daly isn’t going to dismiss being blessed with good fortune.
Before the green flag in the second Duel race, Daly was experiencing problems with his The Money Team Racing Chevrolet. The No. 50 looked like a bucking bronco as Daly made pace laps, and the driver was concerned he wouldn’t be able to drive it.
“We changed everything but the color of the car in the race,” Daly said. “It was pretty wild to start. I thought it was broken immediately, but we kept going.”
Daly immediately lost the draft when the race began. A caution on lap six, however, was the first bit of good luck as it allowed Daly to come down pit road for adjustments, which were significant improvements once Daly was back on track.
“If we didn’t get the yellow, we were probably going to crash,” Daly said. “It was really tough to drive. Thankfully, we got the yellow. Honestly, we took advantage of luck. It was very lucky, but I will take luck all the time because we got better and better as we raced, and I learned a lot at a high rate of speed. It’s pretty awesome to have a chance at it on Sunday.”
The most significant piece of luck struck with 20 laps to go. Race leader Kyle Busch was spun on the backstretch, which collected Travis Pastrana, Austin Hill and Riley Herbst. The damage to Hill’s car was significant enough that his Beard Motorsports team could not make repairs in the time allowed on the DVP clock.
Hill’s exit from the race locked Daly into the Daytona 500. Daly finished 17th, one lap down.
“I did notice on my phone that (Travis) sent me a text that just said hashtag you’re welcome, so I don’t know who started that crash or what happened there, but something might have happened there,” Daly laughed. “Honestly, we thought about how crazy it would have been if Jimmie [Johnson], me, and Travis would have made it because Jimmie and Travis, I know really well now. I can consider them really close friends, and we’ve all ended up here after wild routes to get here, and we’re all in the race.
“It was literally the dream scenario and I can’t wait to see those guys. I can’t wait to go racing against those guys. It’s just insane. I can’t really believe that we made it, and I’m just thankful for my team. They put in hours of work. I didn’t even have my helmet on when they said drivers start your engines. It was insane at what was going on. We had a radio that looked like it was eaten by a rodent overnight, like three, four hours ago. Literally, we’ve been through everything just to get out on track, and we made it. I guess that’s how stories are written.”
Even fighting an evil car, Daly said he learned a lot on the track during the night.
“I guess hanging onto it in the first stint before the first yellow and then as soon as they made the vast amount of changes we made in that first pit stop, the car was instantly better,” Daly said. “So, I was like, keep doing that if we get another chance to do that. Let’s keep doing that. As the car got lighter, it got better as well. So that points to one thing that it was super stiff, and it was like, all right, we need to fix this, and every time we fixed it, each restart, I learned a little bit more and got a little more comfortable.
“The only reason I backed off that last one is because we were in, and I saw one car shoot down below the double yellow line, and pieces of car started flying. So, I was like, all right, I don’t know if I necessarily need to be there. So, I learned a lot and running with BJ [McLeod] as well. It was one car, but I had never run with one car before, so running there and figuring out what the air does and how much you can suck up to another car was something I learned as well. So, lots of learning, but I’m thankful there is more practice.”
An eventful Duel race was the continuation of what has been an eventful Daytona experience for Daly & co. An electrical short burned a hole in the oil line that prevented Daly from making a qualifying lap Wednesday night.
Daytona is a race Daly has a lot of respect for, and even with a tough hill to climb to make the race, he didn’t want to pass on what could be the only opportunity he gets to be a part of it. The hope is that he can start enjoying the experience now that he can look forward to Sunday.
“Honestly, it’s been a really tough last 24 hours or last 36 hours,” Daly said of being able to take in the week. “I want to be competitive; I want to be able to do my job as efficiently as I can and be as good as I can be for my partners and sponsors and family and friends, and sometimes when things out of your control take that away from you, it’s just hard to deal with, especially at someplace new.
“I sat with Corey LaJoie watching the first Duel and literally just listened to him talk about, well, this might happen, this might happen and you try to fill your mind with so much. (It’s not) until you actually get out there, then you can finally filter it and (see) what was actually a lie and what was real, and what was legitimate.
“Everyone had something different to say, but now I feel 100 times better because I actually felt what it was like. And now I’m happier, yes. Way happier.”