The momentum continues. Conor Daly drove one of the best IndyCar races of his career to crack the top-five with a hard fought fifth place finish in his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsport Park Saturday night. Carlos Munoz’s ninth place finish in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet gave AJ Foyt Racing its first top-10 duo of the season.
“We had a good car all weekend,” Daly said when he climbed out of the car. “I was really upset with myself after qualifying, just had a big moment at the exit of (Turn) 1, but we redeemed ourselves. Then I tried to screw it up for myself again in the pits, but we were able to drive back. The car was just fantastic. I have to thank the team, I have to thank ABC Supply for sticking with us. I know it’s been a tough year, but I know we can do it. I know this team can do it. We’re just improving, and it takes time, this is a hard sport.”
Both drivers qualified in the top half of the field with Munoz starting eighth and Daly 11th. The race was slowed before a lap was completed due to Tony Kanaan’s spin on cold tires and a slick track in Turn 2. When the race resumed on lap 6, pacesetter Will Power spun in Turn 2 and collected Ed Carpenter, who became airborne, and Takuma Sato; none of them were injured but their cars were too damaged to continue.On the restart, Munoz was in fourth and Daly in 10th by the time the race resumed on lap 18. The ABC Supply cars were the first cars on pit road during the first round of green flag pit stops and when the stops cycled out, Daly had ascended to ninth but Munoz dropped to 11th despite a problem-free stop.
Daly was having a spirited battle with Graham Rahal for seventh when the yellow came out for J.R. Hildebrand’s single car accident on lap 101 in Turn 4. By the halfway point of the 248-lap race, Daly continued his battle with Rahal while Munoz was fending off Max Chilton.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 156 and Daly had a miscue coming into his pit box on lap 158 causing him to drop from eighth to 15th while Munoz popped into the top 10.
Another yellow, this time for Chilton’s single car accident in Turn 4 on lap 165, saw Daly duck into the pits to top off his fuel. On the lap 174 restart, he bolted from 15th to 11th in one lap and began his battle with Charlie Kimball who got away with a couple of pretty strong blocks of Daly’s attempts to pass. Kimball then sent Munoz out of the groove when he made an aggressive pass going into Turn 1. Daly slipped by his teammate as Munoz was still gathering it up in Turn 2. The yellow came out that lap for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s brush with the Turn 2 wall.
It was during that caution that the 4 crew performed flawlessly on a critical stop allowing Daly to beat Kimball out of the pits. Daly thanked his crew when he realized he was ahead of Kimball; he gained another spot when Rahal had a problem with his fueling rig and was sent to the back of the field. Daly restarted the race in seventh while Munoz was in ninth. On the lap 212 restart, Daly jumped to the outside and overtook both his former housemate James Hinchcliffe and his current housemate Alexander Rossi to claim fifth. He then set his sights on Helio Castroneves who threw a few blocks himself to fend off Daly’s charge.
With five to go strategist Larry Foyt told Daly to bring it home which he did for the team’s best finish of the season. Munoz was able to hold onto his ninth place despite a blistered right front tire which had caused a vibration in the closing laps of the race.
“It was a race with ups and downs,” Munoz said. “The whole team did a great job the whole weekend. Happy for Conor, he did a really good job finishing fifth. And with me finishing ninth, we had two cars in the top 10. I just needed a little more speed in Turns 1 and 2 especially compared to my teammate. Finishing like that in the last stint, I had a really bad vibration that cost me a little bit but I’m really happy for the team overall.”
Daly was effusive in his praise of his team and the 1.25-mile track which attracted a healthy crowd to witness the 500km race.
“They say you can’t make passes on a short oval, right? I mean I love this track, love this track!” Daly exclaimed. “The enthusiastic crowd–it’s just an incredible atmosphere here. The cheer when everyone said, “Start your engines” was really cool. I love being here and love this track and the car was awesome. ABC Supply is sticking with us and we thank them so much for it because we know we can get there. We’ll see what we can do next weekend.”
Josef Newgarden won the race with an aggressive pass on his teammate Simon Pagenaud who slipped to third as he gathered it up on lap 217. Scott Dixon claimed second and Castroneves hung on for fourth.
Foyt said, “Really solid weekend for the ABC Supply team. We were competitive all weekend. It feels like we’ve got a little momentum going now after the past few races. Conor did a really good job tonight, he drove hard and the car was really fast; I’m so glad we got a top-five with him. Obviously he wanted more because he was challenging Helio at the end, but Conor did a good job to bring it home fifth. Carlos also had a good top-10 finish and we really needed that. It’s been a tough year but this shows we’ve been gaining on it and all the hard work everybody’s been putting in is paying off. We’ve got some momentum going with this team and it feels really great.”
A.J. Foyt, who missed the last two races, was happy after the race, saying, “I was glad both my cars finished in the top 10. Conor Daly drove one of the best races for us all year. Carlos ran a good race too. In that last stint he blistered a right front tire which cost him some speed. Overall, both cars performed good, the crews worked good so we’ll just try to keep improving and move up a little further.”
Both teams head back to the Indianapolis-based race shop as they prep the cars for the permanent road course at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York. The IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network this Sunday afternoon starting at 1p.m. ET.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!