By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
“I didn’t even have my helmet on when they said, ‘drivers start your engines,'” said Conor Daly.
The No. 50 Chevrolet — run by the newest team and most inexperienced superspeedway driver in the NASCAR Cup Series — had nearly every odd stacked against it as the green flag flew for the Bluegreen Vacations Duel No. 2 at Daytona International Speedway.
However, despite everything, Daly qualified for the Daytona 500.
“It was insane what was going on here,” he said.
The insanity that led to the shocking result started on Wednesday when Daly was unable to turn a qualifying lap due to a broken oil line. That lined Daly up in last place for his first laps ever at Daytona, not for practice, but for the actual race to get in the Daytona 500.
And as he pulled off pit road to begin the pace laps — the car and driver’s first laps of the week — an extreme rear-end issue caused the Chevy to hop significantly.
“It was literally like driving a bucking bronco,” he said. “Like, I didn’t know what was going on. It was shaking so much that you feel like a wheel is falling off. But I had to go. I didn’t lift those first two laps, but as it was moving around, I was like, ‘This is really not confidence-inspiring.’ So, I lost the draft.”
An adjustment straightened that problem, but Daly still had no contact with the leaders and fell a lap down. Meanwhile, Austin Hill, who also had to race his way into the 500, was amongst the lead pack.
That changed in a heartbeat when race leader Kyle Busch got turned in front of the field, swallowing multiple cars in his wake. One of which was Hill’s No. 62, and his damage was enough to end his day.
Que the Rocky theme for driver No. 50.
“We took advantage of a lucky situation,” he admitted. “We can’t ever deny a lucky situation because I will take it any day.
“We had a radio that looked like it had been eaten by a rodent overnight. We literally have been through everything just to get out on track.”
A start in Sunday’s Daytona 500 joins Daly’s racing resume loaded with nine Indianapolis 500 starts. And though the experience of “Bump Days” in Indiana, the lead-up to Thursday’s Duel race was unlike any other.
“It’s been a really tough last 36 hours,” he said. “It’s just been… for me, I want to be competitive and to be able to do my job as efficiently as I can for my partners, sponsors, family, friends. And sometimes, when things out of your control take that away from you, it’s hard to deal with.
“[But] we made it. I guess that’s how stories are written.”