Conor Daly getting a full-season Verizon IndyCar Series ride was the best story of the 2016 offseason. Fans know that Conor has been hustling for this opportunity his whole career, filling in for anyone on often short notice, and taking every hand that he’s been dealt all in the name of getting to be a regular racer. Now he has his chance to shine and he spoke with IndyCar Examiner at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach about how it’s been going for him so far.
He doesn’t sugarcoat the challenge of being a full-time competitor. “It’s hard. It’s really competitive,” he told us. “We weren’t expecting to come in and win races; this takes time. It’s hard to gain experience in these cars because we’re not on track often through the year, so that’s 16 races to do this year. Hopefully by the end of it, we have more experience.”
So far this season he’s put together a very solid effort for a rookie. He finished in the Top 15 at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, and just outside of it at Phoenix. Especially when he’s piloting a car for Dale Coyne Racing, a team that doesn’t have the resources of Penske, Andretti or Ganassi, there’s a lot to be proud of there. And while he wants to win, rather than have the myopic view of championship or bust, Conor is looking at the 2016 season as something that can make him an even better driver.
Asked what will make this year feel like a success, he told us that his team’s goal is simply “The best we can do. Literally every weekend we come here and we have no expectations. We just want to go out and if we’re giving it everything we can in every session, we know we’re doing our jobs. So no matter if we win a race or finish 10th, I think everything is positive right now as long as we’re doing all the laps every session.”
That attitude is one of the reasons that Conor is a driver to watch now and in the future. He isn’t shortchanging his talent but he understands that success on the track is a process, and comes at it with a positive outlook and a willingness to learn. He doesn’t expect to show up and shoot right to the top; he’s not overconfident. Having spent years scrapping every step of the way, he’s in this game for the long haul – and has the personality to match.
In fact he’s excited about every step of the journey he’s going to take, telling us that he’s thrilled for every single one of the season’s 13 remaining races. “I’m really looking forward to Texas. I’ve always wanted to race in Texas. I really like Iowa,” he said. “[There are] so many cool places we get to race at, so we take it weekend by weekend. We just go one day at a time. We have to think of, how are we going to improve every day?”
He’s shown in the first three races that he has the skills to compete with some of the best drivers in the world. Conor drives smart, not taking any unnecessary risks or pushing aggressively for openings that might not be there. He gives everything he has but this isn’t someone that we’ll be reading about having smashed up his equipment again for the third week or getting into fights with his fellow drivers. His biggest problem has been getting cars that wind up on fire (and even that’s something he’s able to make fun of).
If you still don’t believe he’s ready for a fight, just listen to how he speaks about the future of IndyCar overall. Whereas other drivers might be daunted just by the commitment of their first full-time campaign Conor is an advocate for making the season even longer. “I think we need at least 19 races for sure,” he continued. “I think it helps the crews to keep guys employed longer as well. I would love to see a longer season – start where we start this year but go into October. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t do that.”
He’s passionate about the quality of racing in the league, but he does concede that IndyCar is still flying massively under the radar. “We need more people aware that we have IndyCar racing as a sport,” he told us. “That’s our biggest issue, is that we’re just unknown. People have no idea that first of all, there’s any other race other than the Indy 500.”
Even if fans can’t physically be in the seats, he added that broadcast viewing on NBCSN is equally important. “I just can’t stress to people enough to watch [the races] on TV,” he said. “If you can’t be here, watch it on TV. It helps us and you won’t be bored.”
Something else that he believes is a factor is the athletes of IndyCar not getting enough credit. “We’re short-changed in a massive way,” Conor continued. “I have a massive respect for everyone in NASCAR obviously, because I know that it’s a totally different skill set and I couldn’t do it. But I don’t think we get a lot of respect for the physical and mental level that we have to have, which I think is far above NASCAR. I don’t know how we get to people, because they’ve developed such a powerhouse, [but] we’re getting there, slowly but surely.”
Part of moving in the right direction is securing full-time seats for drivers like Conor Daly. These are the people we need in these cars: the ones who are willing to battle every day not just on the track but off of it as well. The ones who don’t come to a race because of money or because it’s what they can get, but because they genuinely are invested in the sport.
The ones that are fantastic people, who you could trust to watch your house or babysit your kids as much as you can root for them on any given weekend. Conor is all of those things and a heck of a driver. He’s helping to give IndyCar a good name, and the best thing we can hope for is that now he earns the good results that he deserves.
For more on Conor Daly, visit his official website. Then watch the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama this Sunday, Apr. 24 on NBC Sports Network.