Carlin had a much different look for the 2020 season, downsizing to a one-car, two-driver NTT IndyCar Series lineup after a chaotic 2019 season with three cars split among six drivers.
This time, it was just the No. 59 on track for the team, divided between veterans Conor Daly and Max Chilton; Daly took to the five ovals outside of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Carlin, while Chilton piloted the car for the nine road course events throughout the year, as well as the Indianapolis 500.
2020 was a huge improvement overall for Carlin; the team joined IndyCar at the outset of 2018 and had a moderately successful first season but suffered a rough sophomore season with several failures to finish and a pair of races in which one car didn’t even make the field.
The pair of veterans in Chilton and Daly, though, gave Carlin its best season yet; the No. 59 entry finished every race it entered, took the checkered flag on the lead lap in nearly every event and completed all but one of the laps IndyCar ran in 2020.
Chilton ran a full schedule for Carlin in 2018 before downgrading to a part-time effort shared with Daly, the pair’s 2019 duties mirroring their 2020 assignments.
While Chilton was never really in contention for a win in 2020, he ended up with an average finish of 15.1, bringing home the No. 59 Dallara Chevrolet in one piece and on the lead lap every single race. His best finish was an 11th at the opener of the October Indianapolis road course doubleheader, and his worst of the season came the next day (19th).
Chilton finished in nearly every spot between 11th and 19th throughout the season, but his 2020 continued an impressive trend that has endured since he joined Carlin: concluding races without providing the Carlin crews with a lot of work to do. He has just two DNFs to his resume after three years with the team, both coming all the way back in 2018.
At the conclusion of 2020, Chilton ranked 22nd in the driver standings, the highest of any driver that didn’t run the full season or didn’t intend to run the full season when 2020 began (the exceptions being Arrow McLaren SP’s Oliver Askew, who missed two races due to medical reasons, and Zach Veach, who departed Andretti Autosport before the end of the season).
Meanwhile, Daly ran the full schedule across two teams and three cars for 2020: eight rounds in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20, one in Carpenter’s No. 47 and the remaining five for Carlin. Daly also expanded his horizons into NASCAR once again, running the World of Westgate 200 for Niece Motorsports’ Camping World Truck Series program at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
While the Indiana native failed to secure a podium in his tumultuous 2020, he did score a pole position at Iowa Speedway for Carlin, finishing a respectable eighth and later adding back-to-back top-10 finishes at the World Wide Technology Raceway Gateway doubleheader. Daly also started the season off on a high note with a sixth-place run at Texas Motor Speedway, proving to be a capable pilot for the team’s oval races.
2020 was a year of growth for Daly as a driver, building on his 2019 performance with Carlin. He ended up 17th in the standings, ahead of full-time drivers Charlie Kimball and Marco Andretti and only one point behind rookie Alex Palou, and led 17 laps, the second-most of his career.
The improvements for Carlin after an up-and-down initial two years in IndyCar are a harbinger of positives for 2021: no major incidents or negative aspects to its performance in a year impacted by a pandemic and myriad other factors, along with some of the team’s best results. Daly’s sixth at Texas was also the best finish for Carlin since Kimball wound up fifth at Toronto in 2018.
While Carlin currently has operations in IndyCar, Le Mans and a number of other junior racing series, its 2021 IndyCar plans and lineup have yet to be revealed. Kimball raced for Carlin full time in 2018 and in just seven races the following year, so if he returns it would be familiar territory for the Englishman.
Daly and Chilton, meanwhile, have yet to announce their 2021 plans. After nine races with ECR in 2020, it’s possible the former could sign with the team for 2021. If that signing is for a full-time ride, it’s a return to normal for the Indiana native; Daly ran full seasons for Dale Coyne Racing and AJ Foyt Enterprises in 2016 and 2017 before being relegated to part time driving across six teams over the next three seasons.
With Daly’s possible exit, Carlin may turn to the field to pick up a new oval driver. Askew, Kimball, Veach and James Hinchcliffe are just some of the names currently without a ride; Askew in particular was a highly touted prospect after an Indy Lights championship in 2019, and two of his seven wins that year were on ovals, so Carlin may look to a younger driver to revitalize that side of its operations.