Conor Daly compares qualifying stress of Indy 500 vs. Daytona 500

Conor Daly, Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Conor Daly, Daytona 500, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Conor Daly successfully qualified for his first Daytona 500 on Thursday and discussed the different type of stress associated with qualifying for the famed NASCAR race.

Very few people gave Conor Daly much of a chance to qualify for his first Daytona 500, for a number of reasons — even coming into the busy week at Daytona International Speedway.

First of all, his NASCAR Cup Series experience is limited to a single road course race. Secondly, his team, The Money Team Racing, have just four Cup Series starts to their name, and they needed a heroic last-lap pass from Kaz Grala just to get into the race last year — over a, for lack of a better word, backmarker MBM Motorsports team.

These doubts were expressed even before Daly didn’t make a single-car qualifying attempt on Wednesday night, as a result of the fact that an electrical issue burned a hole in the oil line of his No. 50 Chevrolet.

They were expressed before Daly knew he needed to finish ahead of both 23XI Racing’s Travis Pastrana and Beard Motorsports’ Austin Hill, who both made single-car qualifying attempts, in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel race.

And they were expressed before Daly finally got behind the wheel of what he described as a “bucking bronco”, at which point things were truly looking bleak, at best.

“As I was accelerating, it was like literally driving a bucking bronco,” Daly said about the pace laps prior to his Duel race. “I didn’t know what was going on. It was shaking so much that it’s like you feel like a wheel’s falling off. But as I told Tony (Eury, crew chief), I said, ‘Well, I just, I have to go.’ And so I didn’t lift those first two laps.”

It didn’t get much better until the team made an adjustment.

“But as it was moving around, I was like, this is really not confidence inspiring,” he explained. “And so I lost the draft, but when he made that first adjustment, I could definitely tell where what was happening and thankfully, we were able to fix that, and I guess we got a lot better as we went.”

Still, Conor Daly found himself well behind Pastrana and Hill — that is, until they were both taken out in a multi-car wreck.

The wreck effectively handing Daly the final open spot on the Daytona 500 grid.

“It was crazy!” he said. “And we took advantage of a lucky situation. We can’t ever deny a lucky situation because I’ll take it any day.”

Because he raced his way in with a 17th place finish in his Duel race, Conor Daly is set to start 34th in the 40-car field. The last row on the grid is reserved for the two drivers who timed their way in: Legacy Motor Club’s Jimmie Johnson and Pastrana.

Now Daly is in position to become the first driver to compete in both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year since Danica Patrick pulled it off back in 2018.

He still needs to qualify for the Indy 500, and that is no guarantee with likely between 34 and 36 drivers trying to get into a 33-car field, but he hasn’t qualified worse than 19th place for the race since joining Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020.

Daly, who competes full-time in IndyCar, compared the qualifying stress of NASCAR’s famed event and IndyCar’s famed event.

“With the Indy 500, it’s a completely different type of stress,” he told Beyond the Flag. “It’s one car, four laps and everything comes down to you and the team. And it’s much scarier of a drive than anything I’ve ever experienced. Not many things can compare to the intensity of those four laps. Making it at the Indy 500 is the most satisfying experience and just a special feeling.

“With the Daytona 500, it’s just a completely different style and craziness. One minute you can be in, then the next second you’re out all of a sudden. Much like what happened Thursday night. Overall, it’s just a new, exciting feeling going into the Daytona 500, with its unique set of challenges.”

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Fox is set to broadcast the Daytona 500 live from Daytona International Speedway beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, February 19. Start a free trial of FuboTV and don’t miss it!