Conor Daly earns ‘miracle’ Daytona 500 spot
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — As Conor Daly stood on pit road doing the rounds after locking his way into the Daytona 500 for the first time, one of his biggest fans stood in awe over what unfolded in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel.
“It’s a miracle. It’s a God thing,” Daly’s mother said on pit road.
Like everyone else, Conor Daly’s mother watched him get into NASCAR’s premier race after severe mechanical woes plagued him early in his Duel.
Daly needed to beat Austin Hill and Travis Pastrana to get into the 500. However, on the pace laps, his car rocked up and down as it accelerated.
The issues were so bad that he fell 20 seconds behind the pack by Lap 6.
“I can’t accelerate, it’s rocking like crazy. Something seems wrong. The rear is snapping on me and it’s bouncing on me. I’m barely turning the wheel and I’m catching it,” Daly said.
On Lap 6, though, a debris caution let Daly’s team fix his issues but he still fell a lap behind Hill and Pastrana.
Then, on Lap 41, Daytona handed a miracle to Daly and a tragedy to Hill.
Austin Hill ran in a comfortable spot to make the 500, gaining drafting experience in a relatively-quiet pack. Then on Lap 40, a moment provoked him to try to get away from it.
“The 11 went to the top to make a second lane and almost lost it so I said, ‘Hey the 11 almost lost it. It’s getting dicey up here’ And on the backstretch, I started rolling out of it a bit,” Hill explained.
However, it was too late. As Hill backed out of the gas, Daniel Suarez bumped Kyle Busch into the wall and wrecking in front of the pack.
“When the wreck started, I lost sight of where the other cars were [because of the dirt] and we started spinning and got damage,” Hill said.
“It was stupid, I shouldn’t have even been up there.”
With Hill out and Pastrana also out, with race-ending damage after bumping Hill, Daly was locked into the only feasible spot for him to get into the 500.
On pit road post-race, the team gathered around Daly and his family, all in awe over the moment.
For Daly, the moment capped off a journey that started with what was nearly the end of his career.
“The 2018 Indy 500 was one where we were on the edge of making it and I literally put everything I had on the line and we made the race. I was crying, my mom was crying and that actually started this whole relationship with the Air Force, which restarted my career to where I’m here now,” Daly said.
“That moment and this moment are really similar, to feel the emotion. I even had tears in my eyes down the backstretch which is crazy.”
Conor Daly will start 34th in his first Daytona 500, while Travis Pastrana will start 40th.
Austin Hill has five more Cup attempts planned for 2023 – Talladega in April and October, Chicago street course in July, Michigan in August and Daytona in August.
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