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Conor Daly: An Unjust Victim of Collective Underperformance

Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by William Stephens

Credit: Justin Casterline via Getty Images

It took a double take when news first emerged that Conor Daly would be losing his seat at Ed Carpenter Racing. And not at the end of the season, but with immediate effect. A driver that has raced 103 times in IndyCar is now without a seat, and supposedly on performance grounds too, as the statement of confirmation suggested.

“Our team has not been performing at the level we are capable of this year, and despite making technical changes and investments in the off-season, 2023 has been extremely challenging,” the statement from team owner, and driver for the team in a third entry on ovals, Ed Carpenter, read.

Then the hammerblow for Daly came, as Carpenter closed the main bulk of the statement by saying the decision was “necessary to elevate our team’s competitiveness”.

The initial question before the statement was released was whether Daly may have lost sponsorship, which in reality would have been a more understandable reason than that which transpired. But that wasn’t to be the case, and widespread frustration at the decision was exacerbated when it was announced that BitNile - the sponsor that Daly brought onboard - would remain with the team.

It cannot be undervalued how hard drivers work to get sponsors able to fund a drive, so Daly being sacked but the finances he brought to the team still being utilised leaves a sour taste. As much as BitNile may now be a team sponsor, it feels quite unfair on Daly. And just as unjust is the implication that he is a major reason for their underperformance.

Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Soul-searching has been necessary at ECR, with the team having underperformed expectations to start 2023 in particular, starting this season struggling for pace and with only a solitary race consisting of a top 10 finish - when Daly and Rinus VeeKay finished eighth and 10th respectively at the Indianapolis 500, which can often be an outlier of a race.

Daly is 20 points adrift of VeeKay in this year’s standings after seven races, but the disparity is hardly stark, and digging deeper would present that Daly was actually edging the head-to-head in races this season four-to-three. This alone raises real questions about the decision to effectively sack Daly.

He has proven a reliable driver often able to avoid incidents and race strongly when qualifying doesn’t go his way, and he has also proven he can qualify well, namely at Iowa, where he has qualified on pole and third three times in his last four attempts. He often features at the Indy 500, too, leading laps in 2021 and 2022.

He may not have set the world alight in his IndyCar career, which has spanned across 11 seasons, with one podium and a best finish of 17th in the championship - achieved three times, including in 2022 - but the reality is that Daly has lacked the machinery to compete at the very front of the field.

Across five full seasons in the series, he has never finished lower than 18th in the championship, which serves as a marker of his own consistency, especially given he has juggled between teams, including splitting duties between ECR and Carlin in 2020 and 2021.

Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Daly has often been competitive enough with any teammates, albeit VeeKay has finished ahead of him in the championship in each of the last three seasons. However, this serves as more of a representation of VeeKay’s talent, which has seen him linked to some of the series’ leading outfits. There is the caveat of the limbo of shuttling between teams for Daly.

It very much seems that the decision to get rid of Daly ahead of the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America has come on the grounds of the start to this year, and if that is the case, you could viably suggest he has almost been made a scapegoat for collective underperformance at the team. Even 2021 race-winner VeeKay has generally struggled for performance.

The fact that neither car is performing well would appear more of a reflection on the technical changes that Carpenter has mentioned, with it significantly misjudged to infer that Daly is holding the team back. Both drivers have equally been victims of a substandard package.

Daly’s future was always going to be assessed at the end of the season given a number of driver moves are likely in the off-season. But the choice to make the decision to cut ties with Daly mid-season surely risks more uncertainty for the team as a new driver, announced as being Ryan Hunter-Reay, has to bed in instantly.

Hunter-Reay obviously has vast experience, winning the championship in 2012 with Andretti Autosport. But he hasn’t had a full-time drive since 2021, when a significant drop-off reached its climax with a 17th-place championship finish (one place ahead of Daly) for one of IndyCar’s powerhouses - 199 points behind leading teammate Colton Herta.

Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Daly isn’t only a loss on the track but a loss off it too. He is a personality invaluable to IndyCar - an outgoing person that epitomises what is so good about the field in the series. He is a man of the people, with a whole litany of stories about going above and beyond to give his time to fans to ensure the drivers remain connected to those that support them.

Daly even launched this year’s Indy 500 livery virtually in the BitNile metaverse, where fans could join as characters to witness the launch as though they were present. And what’s more? Daly was his own character inside that metaverse, with fans able to interact and speak to him.

He is more than just being marketable - also a pioneer within IndyCar to ensure they market the series in a way that attracts new viewers to the unrivalled racing product. On his own podcast, called Speed Street, he speaks incessantly about how to grow IndyCar. He is an advocate for the series more staunch than anyone else.

He has genuine passion, and IndyCar is worse off with Daly not having a drive.

For a whole host of reasons, Daly having lost his seat with ECR stings. The IndyCar community has almost been in mourning, such is the affection towards the Indiana-born driver. But in his own words on Twitter: “I am NOT done yet.”

Here’s hoping he can find his way back into the series.


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