Penske hails iRacing impact on IndyCar: ‘It’s creating a lot of interest’

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Roger Penske has become an avid viewer of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, and one driver in particular caught his eye at Michigan International Speedway (besides Team Penske winner Simon Pagenaud).

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s third place in his series debut had Penske thinking about translating virtual racing into the real world.

“The biggest news we had was when I got the call that Dale’s thinking about running, (and) I said, ‘How can we be sure he runs,’” Penske, who became the owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year, said during a visit to the Dale Jr. Download podcast this week (the conversation will air at 4 p.m. ET today on NBCSN). “I saw that Nationwide car. It was terrific.

WATCH: Roger Penske on The Dale Jr. Download today, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN

“I hope Dale you’re going to run again with us. I thought it was terrific for us, and I thank you for taking the time to join the IndyCar Series, and hey, maybe when you decide if you want to run there for real at the Indy 500, maybe you give me a call, we’ll see if we can’t get you a good car.”

Earnhardt laughed and told Penske, “If I ever did, you’d be the guy I’d call first!”

The NASCAR on NBC analyst won’t be racing Saturday in Round 4 at Twin Ring Motegi (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but Earnhardt hinted he might return in the last two races.

Regardless, Penske still will be watching – and not just because his drivers are ranked in the top three spots of the unofficial points standings.

“With this technology we’ve had, people are taking it to the next level,” Penske said. “The iRacing guys have done a terrific job. The stick and ball sports can’t do this, can they? We’re unique in the case that we have this. It’s real. Will (Power), Scott (McLaughlin), (Simon) Pagenaud are on this for hours and are getting in trouble with their wives for spending so much time at the track.

“The technology has been terrific. But more important is I think what it’s done is kept us relevant because it keeps our drivers in social media talking about it, the cars, the sponsors. I think (that) is key. That’s giving us relevance, (putting) our model, our license in front of four fans, and it’s creating a lot of interest.”

The Michigan race averaged 202,000 viewers on NBCSN (peaking at 248,000), which was up 25 percent from the Barber Motorsports Park event the week before. The IndyCar iRacing Challenge was the No. 1 cable sports event in the 2:30-4 p.m. window Saturday.

Penske likes the audience metrics but cautions against too much of a good thing with IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA all holding virtual races this week.

“One thing is we have to be careful we don’t oversaturate it,” he said. “We can’t run every single week with every driver. We talk about this internally, and we don’t want to cross pollinize, because I think NASCAR fans want to say, ‘What’s going on with the NASCAR people?’ At Indy, we wanted to have a couple of extra people to come in, invited guests like Dale and Jimmie (Johnson), that really makes a difference, but too much is too much.

“Let’s make these events real. Sooner or later, we’ll get too much of it. We want to keep it every time there is one, it’s something special.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
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Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor “It is great for to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”