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Long: A mother’s hug caps emotional night for Conor Daly

Check out highlights from the two Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona, where Conor Daly and Zane Smith secured their spots in the Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After one of his most significant accomplishments in racing, Conor Daly stood alone on pit road with no one to celebrate with.

Even before he exited his car, sitting on the door briefly to take in what he achieved and then raising his arms as he stood next to a vehicle that plugged and chugged its way to a spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500, congratulatory text messages were flying to his phone from friends and competitors in the IndyCar Series. But he didn’t have his phone yet to see those notes.

So, he stood alone on pit road … except for media members who crowded around him, camera flashes freezing a smile that seemed to grow with each burst of light.

As he leaned against his car, media moving closer, a path suddenly opened in the crowd. Daly bowed his head, looked up and smiled even wider.

Beth Boles walked to her son and embraced him.

“She’s always crying and then it makes me want to cry,” Daly said afterward.

Both stayed composed, although they admitted the last 24 hours had been rough.

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The 31-year-old Daly is a veteran of nearly 100 IndyCar starts. The son of a former IndyCar driver and stepson of the president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, racing has been a way of life for Daly from birth.

But it has not been an easy path. His career has had starts and stops. He has yet to win in IndyCar. His greatest accomplishment in that series was leading the most laps in the 2021 Indianapolis 500, a race remembered for Helio Castroneves becoming the fourth driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Castroneves and Daly also will be linked with this Daytona 500. Castroneves was considered to drive the No. 50 car from The Money Racing Team, a part-time Cup team owned by Hall of Fame boxer Floyd Mayweather. A deal wasn’t done, opening the ride for Daly.

Once he arrived at Daytona, things soured. An electrical issue burned a hole in the oil line and prevented Daly from attempting to qualify Wednesday night. That meant that Daly — who had no laps in a Cup car — needed to finish ahead of Travis Pastrana and Austin Hill in their qualifying race to nab the last spot for an unchartered car in the Daytona 500.

“I didn’t really sleep at all last night,” Daly said.

When the field left pit road to begin the pace laps Thursday night, Daly’s car bounced as if going over a pockmarked country road instead of the Daytona International Speedway pavement.

His car fell off the pace and eventually was lapped.

That was enough for Boles, who had been watching from pit road.

“When the field lapped him, all I could think about was he would probably like to go park and hide in a closet,” she said.

Unable to watch, Boles walked away from pit road and talked to her brother on the phone.

Then, the low of lows turned to the high of highs.

Daniel Suarez’s push turned leader Kyle Busch, sending Busch’s car into the wall and others behind scattering to avoid the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing car.

Five other cars were involved, including those of Pastrana and Hill. Pastrana was out. Hill tried to continue but his car was too damaged.

That guaranteed Daly a spot in the Daytona 500. He’ll start 34th.

“It’s been one of the harder experiences of my career,” Daly said, noting the unfamiliarity with the car and drafting at Daytona.

But he made it.

And his mother was there to hug him.

“It felt so good to see him smile,” she said.

Daly might still be smiling.
“It’s all worth it,” he said. “We do this for moments like this when it all pays off, when things work out. Sometimes you get lucky. It hasn’t happened to me a lot, but sometimes you’ve got to be thankful for those moments, and I’m very thankful right now.”