Conor Daly’s attempt to qualify for the 2023 Daytona 500 with TMT Racing can be summarized in two words: emotional whiplash.
The NTT IndyCar Series driver was plagued with just about every issue imaginable, and it all started before he got the opportunity to make a single lap around the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
On Wednesday, mere hours before the scheduled start of qualifying, an electrical short burned a hole in the oil line of Daly’s No. 50 Chevrolet Camaro, forcing the second-year team to forfeit its opportunity to lock into the Daytona 500 via qualifying.
“We had a very one-in-a-million type thing [happen],” Daly told FOX Sports during Qualifying on Wednesday. “The oil heater – important for qualifying – just shorted out and made the oil line explode. We apparently didn’t have another one of those, and a lot of other teams, their spares are on their backup cars, so it was tough.”
After thrashing throughout the day on Thursday, TMT Racing was finally able to get their vehicle through technical inspection at 4:30 pm ET, less than three hours prior to the start of the first Bluegreen Vacations Duel.
Climbing aboard his BITNILE.com Chevrolet Camaro on Thursday night, Daly was prepared to make his first laps around Daytona International Speedway. But, with the car yet to make a lap, things weren’t right for the 31-year-old – again – upon leaving pit road.
“I don’t know if it’s supposed to be this bouncy when I accelerate,” Daly said over the radio. “It feels like I’m literally jumping. I kid you not, it feels like something is bent in the rear. Like, is that normal?”
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 17, 2023
“I’m not gonna lie, man. I don’t know how this can be right. But, I’ll go for it,” said Daly.
The Noblesville, Indiana native went for it alright, but apparently, nobody relayed that message to his Chevrolet Camaro, as he quickly fell off the pace, losing the lead draft within seconds of taking the green flag for Thursday’s 60-lap contest.
A caution on the seventh lap of the event, when Justin Haley’s No. 31 Chevrolet discarded its right-side window, ultimately saved Daly from a much, much worse race. Although, in hindsight, the adjustment wasn’t responsible for the miracle that occurred on this Thursday night in February.
What did make a difference for Daly, though, was a six-car accident in the closing stages of the event when Daniel Suarez turned Kyle Busch in front of the entire field. The accident collected both Travis Pastrana and Austin Hill, the two drivers Daly had to finish ahead of to lock into the Daytona 500.
Now, you can call that whatever you would like, whether that be luck or just positive karma, but regardless, the fact that Daly is set to roll from 34th place in Sunday’s Daytona 500 – and start ahead of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson – is nothing short of a miracle.
And quite frankly, Daly agrees with that notion.
“Well, we were inherently unlucky for the last 36 hours, but we got lucky. I wish I could have said that I drove it in on pure pace, but it was just crazy,” said Daly. “When we went out there, the car was bouncing around. I had no idea what was going on. I thought the drivetrain was broken, and Tony just made it better every time. We got lucky with the yellows to try to get some experience, but it is pretty crazy.”
“This race, I’ve watched it for so many years and so much crazy stuff can happen, and thankfully we were on the right side of the craziness. It’s pretty amazing.”
Unfortunately, TMT Racing isn’t a stranger to theatrics. Last year, Kaz Grala made a last-lap pass on JJ Yeley in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel race to secure the organization a spot in the Daytona 500, which would serve as the team’s first-ever start.
Luckily for Daly, the NASCAR Cup Series will have a pair of practice sessions this weekend – one on Friday, and one on Saturday – to get their cars dialed in for the 65th running of the Daytona 500, which will take place on Sunday.
… and hey, now that Daly has actually made the race, maybe things will turn around for him?