It was a race of confidence and potential momentum for Conor Daly after finishing fifth in the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
It marks the first top five for the 30-year-old Indiana native since Gateway in 2017 where he placed fifth; his last top 10 also came in at the oval near St. Louis back in 2020 with eighth. Additionally, it’s the first top 10 that Daly has delivered to Ed Carpenter Racing in his 27th start with the team.
The No. 20 ECR Chevrolet squad started the weekend off right by making the Fast Six for the first time this season, ultimately qualifying fourth. Despite starting up front, Daly had an up and down day which started out due an unclear issue when he rapidly fell out of the top 10.
“I really don’t know because Firestone obviously makes a great tire,” Daly said. “And sometimes when you put on the used reds (alternate tire compound), I don’t know if you pick up something on it. It’s something. I’ve had that happen before in other races kind of randomly, but it might just be kind of like the luck of the draw.
“You might have run over something that — it felt like we had a left rear that was going flat, but it wasn’t. Very strange feeling. Literally, as soon as you put on another set of tires, everything was perfect. There’s only one variable there that we changed, and that’s tires.”
With the wild nature of the mixed wet and dry conditions, strategies were varying but Daly was short-pitting the leaders in an effort to make his way back to the front. At Lap 35, they elected to pit for a fresh set of the alternate Firestone tires with the leaders pitting five to six laps later.
A mid-race caution came out, which brought a restart at Lap 46 with Daly moving up to 11th. Five laps after the the race resuming, he re-entered the top 10 and then back in the top five.
“Then it dried out very quickly,” he said. “Difficult first for us. I don’t know what happened on the first set of reds, but they were used reds, and we just went straight backwards. Car was an absolute handful, and I have no idea why.
“Then it kind of forced our hand, and we put on new reds, and it was right back to the great car that it was. So I think we did second fastest race lap, and we were just hauling getting back making up some of the ground that we lost. Then, obviously, the skies opened up a little bit so, that made for an interesting rest of the afternoon.”
Though this season has not gotten off to an ideal start for Daly, the upside is his current career opportunity. He is competing full-time for ECR opposed to the last two years only running the road courses with the organization.
Entering Indianapolis 500 preparation, the momentum could be the mix he needs to put together a run at the Borg Warner Trophy. Last year, he led race high 40 laps and finished 13th.
“We know we’re excited,” Daly said. “And I think everyone at Chevrolet is excited about the next couple of weeks. I think we got the right horses underneath us, and we have a great team, and, yeah, let’s just roll on the next week.