Monday, December 9, 2019

Daly, ECR Join Forces for 2020

A year ago, Conor Daly's IndyCar career was at a crossroads.

After having a full-time ride with Dale Coyne Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing in 2016 and 2017, respectively, Daly was only able to run four races in 2018 and things looked bleak for the 2019 season.

Daly eventually got a ride for the Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport. Back in May I felt this race was a make-or-break moment for his career, and Daly delivered. He was impressive all week in practice, qualified 11th and came home in 10th place for the best finish of his career.

There was certainly a different edge to him that month, as he was about as laser-focused as we have seen him. He was able to run six of the last nine races of the year, and performed well on the ovals while with Carlin, finishing P11 at Texas, P13 at Iowa and P6 at Gateway.

That effort definitely made him a free agent of note, and his plans for 2020 were cast in stone Monday when he was named the "road course" driver of the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. That means he will drive all 12 road courses for ECR next year, and then will also have a ride for the Indy 500. His sponsorship will come from the United States Air Force, which was on his car at Indy, as well as at the season finale at Laguna Seca where he drove for Andretti Autosport.

Daly jumps into the seat that belonged to Ed Jones in 2019. Jones, who posted three podium finishes in 2017-18 with Chip Ganassi Racing, could only manage a season-best finish of P6 at the Indy GP, which was his only Top 10 finish of the season. Daly is the second new face at ECR for 2020, joining rookie Rinus VeeKay, who this past year won seven races and finished second in the Indy Lights standings.

In both seats, I think ECR made serious upgrades, but none more so than with Daly. For his career, Daly has run 51 IndyCar races, 34 of which have come on road courses, where he has nine Top 10 finishes. Given he hasn't always had quality rides, that is more of an impressive stat than it might look at first glance.

Then comes the Indy 500. Daly will be the No. 2 man on a team that focuses a lot of energy to that one race. ECR always finds lots of speed at the Brickyard, as Ed Carpenter has sat on the pole three times and the team has put a driver on the front row six of the last seven years. 

This past May, Carpenter, Pigot and Jones started P2, P3 and P4, respectively, with Carpenter leading seven laps and coming home sixth. As good as Daly showed he could be at Indy this year, he could be even better in an ECR machine, especially with Chevy power, which this year was the better motor at the 500. 

Though Daly isn't entered in the other four ovals -- those are Carpenter's drives -- it wouldn't surprise me to see something get worked out for him to appear in one or two, if not all four races. If he does run the full 17-race schedule, I think he will easily establish a career-best in the championship standings.

2020 Start Times Released

It's always good to have the schedule set in stone for the next season in December, which hasn't always been the case in the past. While the dates for the 2020 season were announced back in September, the times were still being worked on. 

The start times next year should satisfy everyone. Iowa is back to being an "official" night race after having a 6 p.m. local time start this year. Of course, weather pushed the start of the race very deep into the night, but this year's 8 p.m. start makes it a full "after dark" event. In fact, all of the ovals except for the Indianapolis 500 are true night events, with all of them going off after 7:30 p.m. local time.

It seems like IndyCar responded to fan feedback on the Mid-Ohio race, which will start at 12:45 p.m. The Mid-Ohio race is heavily attended by fans from Indiana, who had a tough time getting home and getting ready for the start of the week when the race started later in the afternoon. Road America, which is much in the same situation, has a 12:50 p.m. green flag.

Eight of the 17 races will be on network television next year, including the final two races of the season at Portland and Laguna Seca. 

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media

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