Conor Daly won’t need to sneak any more bottles of water from Andretti Autosport hospitality in May.
The 27-year-old was ecstatic Wednesday to be announced as Andretti Autosport’s fifth driver for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Daly, who grew up in the shadow of Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a passionate appreciation for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” will have United States Air Force sponsorship for a second consecutive Indy 500 on his No. 25 Honda.
After driving for five teams since his NTT IndyCar Series debut in 2013, Daly is particularly giddy about this ride. Andretti Autosport has won five Indy 500s, including the 100th in 2016 with Alexander Rossi, a close friend of Daly.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Daly said during a media teleconference following the announcement. “No one doubts the fact that Andretti has had so much success at the track, at the event, in the whole season in general. I’ve got two Indy 500 champions (Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay) as teammates and just an incredible wealth of experience.
“It’s going to be awesome, certainly my best shot at the race ever. The car is going to look stupendous. The team is going to do an incredible job, and I can’t wait to just get to work. That’s the thing, it’s going to be hard to count down the days, but May will be here in no time.”
He chuckled when confessing he’s enjoyed his share of waters over the years at Andretti Autosport hospitality.
“Now I’ll feel less bad about eating there and having all the nice beverages,” he said.
Daly will be making his 44th career series start and sixth in the 500. His best Indy 500 finish was 21st last year with Dale Coyne/Thom Burns Racing. His best series finish was second at Detroit in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing, and he’s had two other top-fives and 10 overall top-10 results.
“Certainly, if we win, there’s no way I’m getting out of that car,” Daly said. “I’ll probably just sit in there for hours, maybe days. Yeah, it’s certainly going to be an incredible opportunity.
“I’ve known so many of these guys on this team. I just walked around the shop yesterday, and I’ve literally tried to hang out with them so much because obviously Alex is one of my best friends and I just kind of hang around him more often than not. I’ve lived at his house.”
Team CEO Michael Andretti has had Daly on his radar for years and been impressed with how the driver was able to be competitive when jumping into a new car. Andretti suggested this race could lead to more.
“That would be great,” Andretti said. “We’ve already talked about it and we’re working on a few things. I think it’s a real possibility. We’d love to still keep him in the family, not just for the one race. Hopefully we can work something out. It comes down to obviously sponsorship, but we are working on a few different things. We’ll see.”
Andretti is particularly proud to add Daly to his stable of American drivers, which also includes Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. The team has won four series titles, most recently with Hunter-Reay in 2012. Rossi was a runner-up to Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing last season.
“We’ve been working for quite a few years to try to figure out how to get Conor in our family,” Andretti said. “We highly rate him as a driver. We think Conor will fit in here perfectly with all of the other teammates he’s going to have.
“We have something unique, having five American drivers on the same team at the Indianapolis 500, it’s something that’s very exciting and it’s great to have the U.S. Air Force be a part of it.”
Andretti has run six cars in each of the past two Indy 500s, so the team is familiar with expanding its operation. And while it sounds unlikely at this point, he doesn’t rule out adding another entry this year.
“At the moment, no, but I won’t say it’s out of the question,” Andretti said.
Amused by the suggestion that his 78-year-old father, Mario, could come out of retirement in the 50th anniversary of his 1969 Indy 500 victory, Michael joked, “That could be our sixth car.”
Since finishing 18th in the points in his last full-time ride with A.J. Foyt Enterprises in 2017, Daly has admittedly bounced around and been “thrust into the deep end” in several situations, including a NASCAR Xfinity Series ride and most recently driving a midget at the iconic Chili Bowl. He’s been willing to try anything to keep his career going and prove himself worthy.
“I’ve had to try and just do whatever I could do in a last-minute-type situation, and I’m used to that,” he said. “But the Indy 500 is a little bit different. Last year, we missed the first day of practice and it was definitely a bit of a hectic situation.
“I think now, showing up at Indy with probably a lot of information already that I’ve been able to study, I’m going to try to be at every race with the team to see how it all works, so I think this sort of situation I’ll feel more comfortable in.”
Daly, the son of retired Indy car and Formula One driver Derek Daly, says he’s matured as a driver and will appreciate each day more in this new opportunity.
“It will just be a great situation for my brain,” he said. “Last year, heck, I was just trying to survive and make the race, take all the wing out that we possibly could (to decrease drag in the car) and just see what happened. I think it will be a different situation this year.
“It makes me feel happy. I’m just a happier person, for sure.”