Conor Daly has kept busy following the conclusion of the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Last weekend, the Indiana native swapped open wheels for fenders and made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the No. 50 BitNile Chevrolet Camaro for The Money Team Racing in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 17-turn, 2.32-mile road course layout.
A steering shaft failure in practice halted an opportunity for Daly to gain valuable on-track experience, with repairs also negating an opportunity to qualify. Left with a 39th (last) starting spot, he battled throughout the 112-lap contest, overcoming two left-front tire failures and a fire in the center console during the middle of the race, making it to the end and finishing 34th.
“I think the most interesting thing has just been dimensions of the car,” Daly said. “It is obviously wide and big. The vision is a bit tougher, I would say, than what we have in INDYCAR. The engine is loud; it sounds great. It's got a lot of power. I love the old school sequential gearbox, as well. I have driven sequential gear boxes before and it's fun.
“Everyone was really helpful. Honestly, I got a lot of advice from a lot of drivers, people willing to help, especially after I didn't get many practice laps. The first time I was really able to do an actual run on the car was in the race, so that's extremely hard. It was fun when we had things going the right way, and I really enjoyed getting to race those guys. It's a bit of a different style of racing.”
There was also the adjustment of getting used to the spatial awareness compared to his regular ride in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“I probably was giving people too much room,” Daly said. “Thankfully, though, they have a rear-view camera now, which is actually really nice, but mine caught on fire halfway through the race and then I didn't have that either, so I couldn't see anything.”
While Daly leaned on advice from several drivers within the sport, including friend and fellow Hoosier Chase Briscoe, who coincidentally was the only driver to make contact with Daly during the contest, he was regularly getting help from a blast from the past in AJ Allmendinger. Uniquely, the two hadn’t shared a race together since making their respective debuts in the Indianapolis 500 in 2013.
Allmendinger was open with his time to help mentor Daly, even after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday. Additionally, Daly found himself in close pursuit of Allmendinger during Sunday’s Cup race for roughly 10 laps, which allowed the perfect opportunity to learn and mimic the former Champ Car ace-turned-NASCAR race winner, including the 2021 edition of the Verizon 200 at The Brickyard on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The opportunity to go beyond his comfort zone of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is something Daly has regularly welcomed. Over the years, he has also made appearances in NASCAR’s Truck Series and Xfinity Series, with sports car starts in IMSA and trying his hand with dirt midgets in the BC39 and the Chili Bowl Nationals.
“You got to be prepared to go there and expect a difficult time,” said Daly, who led seven laps and finished sixth in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in May.
“I love driving, I love racing. If anything can help bring more attention to INDYCAR, I want to do that for us because it's the sport that I love.”
So, what’s next on Daly’s list of events in which to race outside of his full-time gig in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES?
“I would say on our list of things to do next year on off weekends could be slightly busier,” Daly said. “We definitely are looking at more NASCAR opportunities with BitNile. Todd Ault (founder and executive chairman, BitNile) has loved being a part of INDYCAR, and he just loves motorsports, so therefore he wants to use it for his business. INDYCAR is the goal. Winning the Indy 500, winning INDYCAR races is the goal overall, but if there's more racing to be done, we might do it.”
If there is one weekend in 2023 that would deliver an unprecedented challenge, it would be the doubleheader Brickyard Weekend with INDYCAR and NASCAR at the IMS road course Aug. 11-13. The event is most definitely within the realm of possibilities.
“Absolutely. It's certainly been talked about,” Daly said. “We never want to take away from the INDYCAR program, as that's the focus. We just have to talk with Ed and our guys on the INDYCAR side to make sure that we're not taking anything away from there. But there's definitely going to be off weekends, and usually on all of our off weekends there's a NASCAR race on, so who knows?”