DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Conor Daly knew it might be a longshot to qualify for the Daytona 500. After all, he has just one NASCAR Cup Series start on his resume, coming at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval last fall.
“It‘s going to be hard, but why not?” Daly said at Wednesday‘s Daytona 500 Media Day.
Last week, The Money Team Racing announced Daly would attempt to get its No. 50 Chevrolet into the Great American Race. The historic venue isn‘t foreign to the Indianapolis native, as he‘s competed in the Rolex 24 on two occasions and raced go karts at Daytona as a kid.
But TMT is a small, part-time open entry, despite being owned by legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. The team made four starts during the 2022 season, and qualified into the Daytona 500 with Kaz Grala behind the wheel.
Daly noted that he reached out to multiple Cup Series drivers, including AJ Allmendinger — he accidentally dialed AJ Foyt and quickly hung up — and Chase Briscoe, to see what they thought of his opportunity with TMT. Both thought it would be a tall task, but if Daly has nothing to lose, then to go for it.
The difference this year is the 42 Cup cars entered for the 500 wouldn‘t get to turn a lap of practice before Thursday‘s Bluegreen Vacations Duel races. Daly and Travis Pastrana were set to make their qualifying runs on Wednesday evening with zero prior laps in a Cup car at Daytona. Pastrana made the show, but Daly didn‘t even see the track.
TMT‘s No. 50 Chevrolet never made it to the starting grid as an electrical short burned a hole in the oil line of Daly‘s ride while the team was getting it prepped in the garage. While looking over the car, the team ran out of time and Daly didn‘t turn a lap.
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Now, he enters the second Duel race blind, having to start shotgun on the field.
“Practice sounds great,” Daly said ahead of Wednesday‘s scheduled qualifying session. “But a lot of my NASCAR stuff — actually almost all of it — both of my Truck races, the Cup race, the Xfinity race I did have practice and qualifying and that went well. But there‘s been no practice for the Roval, well, six laps before it broke. The truck races there have been no practice either. I guess I‘m kind of used to it in the NASCAR realm, but I will always take practice.”
Unfortunately for Daly, not only did he not get practice but his first lap in the No. 50 car will be at speed in the draft. While studying for the weekend, he did have good supporters in Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney. But when running into Kyle Busch at the Chevrolet simulator, the two-time Cup champion kept it blunt: “Ah, you‘re not going to learn much on the simulator for Daytona,” Daly recalled Busch saying.
“I never do anything one and done,” Daly said. “I would love to do as much as I can. You never know when those opportunities come about. My goal would be to learn a lot from this race and learn a lot in the Duel for the race that we hopefully get to do on Sunday to then come back next year and feel way better about it. I can‘t tell the future, but I‘ll do anything, any time, any place.”
No matter if No. 50 car qualifies for the Daytona 500 with sponsor BitNile.com, it shouldn‘t affect the rest of his NASCAR schedule in 2023. He plans on returning next month at Circuit of The Americas and in August for the NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He has one other race confirmed, with the possibility of three others.
“If it did, I don‘t know if we would [enter Daytona],” Daly said. “It‘s like a massive upside, low downside.”
Should Daly miss the show, sure it will be disappointing. But it‘s an opportunity of a lifetime.
“You never know if you‘ll get another shot at it or not,” he said. “It‘s a great upside and the downside is not big because we‘re still going to have our sponsor, we‘re still going to go to COTA to race there. So that‘s going to be fun.
“It‘s the biggest uphill battle I‘ve probably had to make a race. The 2018 Indy 500 was going to be tough, but we made it fine, so that was good. But this one is going to be a real challenge with the other good cars that are also trying to qualify.”