Conor Daly admits that it isn't always easy to get up in the morning and face another day without a full-time deal to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series next year.
Rather than stay in bed and sulk about his predicament, Daly meets the challenge head on and spends his days working hard toward his goal of starting his third full INDYCAR season in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.
“I'm not going to lie, it is tough,” said Daly who has 39 Verizon IndyCar Series starts under his belt, including full seasons in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing and 2017 with AJ Foyt Racing.
“But I want to see this through – I never want to give up on what I am doing. After the last two years, I'm extremely hungry for the right situation. I just have to continue to push hard and control my own destiny.”
Daly will get some help raising his profile in early 2018 after it was revealed that he and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport will appear on the 30th season of “The Amazing Race” on CBS beginning Jan. 3.
Things changed for the 26-year-old Daly in late October when Foyt announced its 2018 lineup would not include either of its 2017 drivers – Daly and Carlos Munoz.
“It was a bit of a surprise to me,” said Daly, who won the 2010 Pro Mazda championship. “The seats at the (other) teams who had sponsors were full, so it just kind of compounded a difficult situation. But you'd also hate to know in July or August that by the end of it you'll be out of a job. In the racing world right now, it's a tough game.”
For now, Daly is focusing on the remaining seat left with Coyne’s team and hoping he can put together an attractive pitch to land the No. 19 Honda seat next to Sebastien Bourdais. The only other current availability for 2018 appears to be driving the road- and street-course events in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. If that doesn't happen, he'll be targeting a one-off start in the Indianapolis 500.
Unfortunately for Daly, it's not the first time he's been in this position since returning to the U.S. at the end of 2014 following four years of racing in Europe. His goal for 2015 was to get a full-time ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but the best he could do was one-race deal with Coyne and four starts in the No. 5 Arrow Honda at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as a replacement for injured James Hinchcliffe.
“I just went to every INDYCAR race and did the whole substitute driver thing and then for Hinch,” he said. “I felt that every performance in those cars was good enough – heck, we almost won Detroit in the 5 car (finishing sixth in the second race of the weekend doubleheader).”
Dale Coyne ultimately delivered a coveted full-time job in 2016, where Daly scored five top-10 finishes, including a podium for second in Detroit. But that relationship didn't continue and he moved to A.J. Foyt’s team. In 2017, he put up only three top-10 finishes, although many issues were beyond Daly's control –the team’s late switch from Honda to Chevrolet, a late engineer hiring, accidents and car reliability – played major roles in the lack of top finishes. Then again, there were clearly a few races where he easily outpaced the car's capabilities, such as his fifth-place at Gateway Motorsports Park in August.
Young drivers falling on tough times while trying to become established is all too common in racing. Just ask Hinchcliffe, who offered Daly free room and board a couple of years ago to help a younger driver find his feet.
The Canadian can also relate to Daly's sudden unemployment. Hinchcliffe found himself in a similar position following the 2011 season when Newman/Haas Racing suddenly closed its doors for good and thrust him into the unemployment line.
“Obviously racing is a very fickle business,” Hinchcliffe said.
“I was feeling good going into the 2011 offseason having wrapped up rookie of the year honors, so it was a shock when I got the word that the team was shutting down. But I had been in the same position 12 months earlier: I had had a really good test (with Newman/Haas), the team wanted to run me, but we didn’t have a sponsor. I even missed the first race that season because the sponsor hadn’t committed yet.”
But there's also light at the end of the tunnel even when you find yourself out of a ride. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball also found themselves on the outside looking in after the 2017 season when Chip Ganassi Racing reduced its stable from four to two cars. That all changed this month when the pair were named the drivers for the new Carlin team in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
While Hinchcliffe insisted that every situation is different, he offered one thing he learned while working to be a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver.
“My mindset was always just one of never quitting,” he said as he prepares to enter his eighth season and fourth with Schmidt Peterson. “Never think about a ‘Plan B’ because then it distracts you from achieving ‘Plan A.’ That said, this business is all about timing, and I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”