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April 11, 2020

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Scott McLaughlin

Simon Pagenaud

Brooklyn, Michigan

THE MODERATOR: Wasn't that refreshing to see IndyCars back at Michigan International Speedway after a long wait. I think as Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy mentioned on the broadcast, after viewing some of the practice race, we were expecting a pretty entertaining race. It was an unfortunate start, but a terrific finish.

There was so much happening in the race that made it very entertaining for the first oval in this iRacing INDYCAR Challenge. It was a Chevrolet that won the race. It was a very good day for Team Penske.

We're going to start with the driver of the No. 2 Snap-on Tools Dallara, Scott McLaughlin. If there was an official points tally, he would be the leader. We know, Scott, that your experience level in iRacing, you're showing that whether it be on road courses or now on an oval. I know you're getting used to having a spotter as well. Tell us about your day, your successful day.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, look, probably for me the biggest thing for me to get used to was the spotter with T.J. I actually have T.J.'s spotter pack in iRacing, now it's a computer generated call. It's not quite accurate.

This is the first time where I've actually had a human genuinely telling me where the cars were, the runs. Getting used to that, the constant talk, how much chatter I wanted was interesting, I really enjoyed it all week.

I'm glad I did it a few practice races to get used to oval stuff, how hard some people race, how hard some people didn't.

In the end, obviously been on my roof, on my lid on the first start wasn't good, but thankfully had a fast repair, we were all granted one of those. I was able to repair my car and get back out. Became a strategy to the end in saving fuel. I think me and Dale did very similar strategies all the way to the end, as well as Simon.

THE MODERATOR: There was a lot of prerace discussions about 'the big one'. We weren't expecting that to come coming to green. How was the general conduct of your peers? Everyone racing pretty sensibly?

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: It's funny, in the practice races everyone is crashing, stuff going on everywhere. When you get into the real thing, unbelievable, everyone was really good. I was in really clean air most of the race. I only raced sort of four or five cars, most of it with the strategy, how it all worked out.

In the end, we were all trying to save a little bit of fuel there. The conduct was really good. I think everyone is getting use to the Internet racing side of things because it's not exactly the same in regards to how close you can touch people, all that sort of stuff, pinch people down. It's all getting used to that.

It gives you a really good feel, I'm sure, of what it's like in the real life thing.

THE MODERATOR: To the third-place finisher, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the Nationwide Chevrolet under an INDYCAR entry, your first INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, Junior. You got on your first INDYCAR podium. How about that?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: There was a lot of luck involved. The start of the race was a little bit odd. We'd been starting much quicker much earlier off of turn four in our practice races. I think the rest of the field behind the leaders were anticipating going around that same area.

The leaders chose to roll a little closer to the start/finish line. Everybody kind of got banged up there, accordion-ed into each other. Someone ran into the back of me.

We wanted to save our quick fix that would repair all the damage on the car because I was anticipating a lot more yellows. With the damage we had, the car would burn the right front tire really quickly, so we didn't have the pace that we had in the practices to run with the leaders.

We did pit. I didn't even know that we had fell into the strategy on fuel that we had. That kind of became apparent as we started to think about taking our first pit stop. I was like, Let's split the race in half.

We ended up running out the gas as we crossed the finish line, getting the checkered. Ended up frustrating some guys because their strategy didn't work out well in the fastest car, the best sim racers didn't finish where they should have.

I had a good time. I was really thankful to be invited. Really appreciated the opportunity to be a part of this. I really became a huge fan of the series, even more of a fan of the series last year when I went to the Indy 500.

The guys, it's fun to get to know them. They all have such wild personalities, different personalities. So much complexity to the stars in that series. It's kind of fun getting to know who they really are.

I think in sim racing, much like any kind of console gaming, PC gaming, whatever, that's going to bring out your real personality, the good and the bad (laughter). It's kind of fun to see some of those guys really kind of come out of their shell.

THE MODERATOR: We have a lot of people on the line who will be keen to ask questions. We're waiting for the race winner, Simon Pagenaud.

Q. Dale, a lot of guys who ran up front today were avid iRacers and sim racers. Do you think this really displays a new car for this platform when you try a different race like this?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I mean, if you were to put the best guys in the service in that race, they would destroy all of us. If you were to put some of the best customers or best drivers on the service in the NASCAR events, they would destroy all the NASCAR drivers. You can't hold a candle to them because of their experience and the time they put into it.

But you can see there is a wide variety of skill sets when it comes to the real world drivers. When you group them together, you see the guys have a lot of time on the sim that are smart and clever about how the sim reacts, how the tires fall off, how you can counter that. There's other guys that have no idea what is about to happen. They just drive the car as hard as they can, burn it up.

But the funny thing about it is, with all that said, I've seen this on the NASCAR side, I certainly think it's got to be true on the INDYCAR side, is they adapt super fast. The guys that have never used the service, never drove the sim, not even gamers, really adapt so quickly because of how realistic I believe the platform is, the iRacing platform is. They pick up on it really quick.

I mean, I kind of hate to step outside of the INDYCAR world, but we've been spending so much time with our Cup cars, all the Cup regulars. Kyle Busch, what a great example of a guy who had no clue of what he was doing, and now he's guaranteed a top-10 finish, maybe top-five, and it shouldn't be that way. It's much more challenging than he makes it look. He puts so much time in.

I can say the same thing with the INDYCAR guys. We've had a lot of time together this weekend, a lot of laps, a lot of practice, a lot of little test races and so forth, more so than I even see on the NASCAR side. There's a lot more commitment for the drivers to put the laps in, put the time in, to be as good as they can so they can make the show as good as they can make it.

Q. There was a lot of people on social media that would love to see you try a real INDYCAR race at some point. Would you even consider a road course or a road course test in an INDYCAR?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: No, I probably wouldn't. For the most part my driving days are over. I have a few events left in me. I don't know how many of those Xfinity races I'll be running beyond this year.

For me, I mean, I guess it's okay to be honest. This is a dream come true, to have all the real world guys on the computer. That's where I've been for two decades. This is awesome to have all these guys, whether they all 100% really loved and wanted to be there, it's awesome that they're all competing and we're having these races broadcast on network television in front of so many people.

The reaction generally from the population and public is, Man, I'd love to have the real thing, but this is pretty good. I'll watch this till we get the real thing back.

I'm loving it. This is awesome. Dream come true. I never would have imagined this would happen in a million years, for there to be legitimate, in my mind, as far as sim racing goes, in that community and that bubble, legitimate racing with real world drivers. It's pretty impressive.

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner, Simon Pagenaud.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Thanks for having me. Sorry about the trouble. I'm not the most techy guy out there. I did the best I could (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: We're glad you're here.

SIMON PAGENAUD: It was an awesome day. I'm just as excited as I would be for a race win. Winning is everything.

THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.

Q. Simon and Scott, you experienced racing with Dale Jr., what does it say that you are competing not just with your fellow INDYCAR base but also drivers from different disciplines?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I was just talking to Dale earlier. First of all it's really awesome to see him join us because he's such a big name in racing. He can reach to so many more people than we do because he's been racing for so many years at such high level. It's pretty amazing to see the humility he has to come and race a series he doesn't know, a car he doesn't know.

I know he's been doing a lot of iRacing, but still what he did today is pretty amazing. I just really like him. I'm a big fan of him and his dad. I was of his dad. I'm just very happy that he joined us. I hope he can do more in the future because I think he's having fun.

I'm personally having a lot of fun racing him. It's amazing to get to race your heroes.

SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: For me it was the same thing as what Simon just said. I think it's really cool to race people like Dale, like Jimmie Johnson, like people I've watched for many years in Australia. For me it's really cool. For me to race against the INDYCAR guys is even a better treat for me, to learn how everyone races, who is aggressive, who is not aggressive, it's quite interesting.

Q. Dale, in the Cup Series you had a couple wins that snapped some stretches where you weren't doing too well. Were you drawing on what you were able to do in NASCAR in today's INDYCAR event even though it's sim racing?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: My approach to the race today was, like Simon said, even though I've been on the service a lot, all the cars have such unique characteristics, I didn't have much time in the INDYCAR. I was trying to find the challenges with the car and understand them as fast as I could, how the car works, how it likes to be driven for tire degradation and all those things. The sim is so realistic, sometimes too realistic.

Also there tended to be some pack racing. Practices were pretty wild. Like Simon said about being excited for the win, they had the same emotions as they would in the real car. They get as angered as easily, they get a thrill out of sim racing if it goes well. I've had that same experience on the oval side.

You know all those guys are there to do well. They got partners, cars that they want to put toward the front of the field so their sponsors are happy because this is really all the sponsors can attain right now when it comes to exposure, engagement. A lot of pressure on these drivers.

I was just trying to ease in there and not ruin anybody's day but also have a reasonable finish that I could be proud of.

Q. Scott, being so successful in sim racing in multiple series, talk about what you've been able to do. If you had to pinpoint one thing that's made you successful in this, what has exactly that been?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Probably for me a lot of hard work. In some ways I've really worked hard on my setup and my understanding of the setup in the Supercar and the tracks. Certainly haven't driven a Supercar in Monza before, so that was good to learn.

Obviously this week I've got up twice now, this is my third time getting up at 4, 5 a.m. in the morning for the practice races to learn the draft, what it was like with group practices.

With the fixed setup races, I enjoy it because everybody is in the same boat. You can't do much about it. It's all about how you understand the tire, how it heats up, how it goes across the run.

I guess just a little bit of effort, yeah, sacrificing my sleep, getting around it.

Q. Simon, you talked about how hectic it was having so many people in your ear. Was it more difficult to win today or winning the Indy 500?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Very different feeling, for sure. Very different situation. At the 500 we went all out and tried to take control. We had the fastest car, so we just wanted to control the race. I ended up being in the same situation with fuel on the other side, we were a bit short on fuel and we had to save.

But today the strategy, we didn't qualify so well. I didn't understand how to run the best line to get speed out of the car. Maybe I didn't practice enough qualifying runs.

But I knew in race pace I was going to be good. Like Dale said, it was so hectic throughout the week in practices that I decided to just actually hang with Dale because he has so much experience in this kind of racing in general. We figured out that we were actually saving fuel and tires really well. It helped us to do only one stop.

At the end I was a bit stressed out, I must say. I was very stressed because I don't feel as much in control. My engineer, Ben Bretzman, who is my usual engineer, was telling me the fuel code, the fuel level, how much to save fuel, that I was fine. He was telling me basically not to race people around me, which is very difficult. It's a very different space awareness. That's what I'm struggling with the most.

But, yeah, today was a very stressful day, very intense, very intense.

Q. Dale, you said you ran out of fuel, crossed the line. Did you know how low that fuel was? Were you planning that the last few laps? Is that how it worked out?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: That's how it worked out. I was playing with the fuel in the last run. If I ran any harder than I was running, I was going to be short. Even as we got the white, I couldn't change what I was doing with the throttle to be able to get back to the checkered.

There was no point, I wasn't going to catch Scott. His car was working pretty good. He did a great job not only saving his fuel but keeping his tires good, keeping the right front on his car.

When he took off, I might have tried for a corner or two to see if I could keep up with him, but I was going to run out of fuel so there was no point.

Q. You said you were trying to save your fast repair in case something else came up. Was that hurting you on the speed or the handling of your car?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think a little bit of both, but mainly the right front. The car was real tight. The back end was broke. When we had the crash on the front straightaway, I slowed down and I kind of stopped. But somebody came from behind and slid into the back of the car. We had some damage there.

It would just push the right front off real easy. I don't know if it was hurting the speed, the power, but definitely as the car got deeper and deeper into the run, it started to kind of act like a chair that had a short leg. It was very funky how it was driving.

I was waiting on that quick fix. I was expecting to have multiple yellows. The way the practice sessions had been going, we were all on top of each other, having a lot of accidents. Turned out to be a fuel mileage race.

Q. Dale, what were you first impressions with your first INDYCAR race? What do you think your dad would think that you decided to do INDYCAR racing?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think he'd certainly have a hard time with this, just the sim racing part of it I guess. That's what we're all watching on television, and everyone is enjoying it. You never know, he might have came around to be a big fan of it.

For me driving the INDYCAR is just an opportunity to hang out with those guys, get to know Simon, Scott, all the rest of those guys better. It's just fun for me to have the opportunity.

As a fan you can only get so much access, the drivers do a great job of giving a lot. There's only so far that you can really push that to get to know these guys. This is a bit behind closed doors, get to kind of see what their world is like.

Being a driver in the NASCAR series, I got a real good idea how those guys are, their lifestyles, how they interact with each other. Certainly some similarities in the INDYCAR world.

The fact that they're from all over the world, where NASCAR it's just basically guys from the United States, it's a little smaller of a bubble, the INDYCAR personalities are just so complex and so different from each other. Really contrasting. That's a lot of fun to hear them interact with each other.

Q. With the world and the country going through this crisis, how helpful is it or relieving to set time aside, have a routine to sim race for fans?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It's great. Just for a moment you get to forget about everything that's going on out there. I promise you, during those laps, thinking about fuel, trying to figure out where we're going to end up, you're not thinking about all the sadness and frustration and troubles going on in the world around you.

Hopefully that's the same feeling that a lot of people get when they tune in and watch or races on NBCSN. For a minute things feel good. When it's over you snap back into reality and have to start trying to stay healthy and keep up the regimen that you have to say healthy, wait for this thing to play itself out.

Q. Dale, obviously Amy, they would never find your remains if you said you were going to go INDYCAR racing full-time. What about next week? If you get the invite, are you going to go around next week?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: She just ended the first trimester for our second child. She has her good days and bad days. But I'm kind of committed to running the NASCAR stuff. There's NASCAR stuff on both networks happening on the weekend and throughout the week.

I believe I'm pushing my luck to add more racing to my schedule. As much as I would love to sit on the sim rig every single day, compete and Twitch stream and do all those things, I need to be a dad and help her at this particular time especially.

I do badly want to race again with Scott and Simon and all the guys, even if it's a road course, get out there and give it a go. Hopefully there will be opportunities for me to do that if not next weekend. I might need to take a little bit of a break. If not next weekend, I'd love to get another invite if they're open to having me back.

Q. Simon, I have to know something. I heard this was your first full iRace.
SIMON PAGENAUD: No, I've been on iRacing since 2008. I took a big break, maybe too long of a break. I'm certainly readjusting a lot.

Q. When was your first race back after the break?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Watkins Glen was my first race back in a while. Especially at this level, it's taking me time to train. I'm training five hours minimum a day right now. I want to be competitive. That's my nature. I want to win races. When INDYCAR announced this official racing, I wanted to be myself and I wanted to go out there and do the best I could.

Winning is the most satisfying thing that I know. Being able to do what we did today to me is why I train so hard, it's why I do this.

Q. Scott, you were all set to make your INDYCAR debut with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May. With that being changed, I imagine everything is up in the air. How much is your participation in this really increasing your desire and hope to get back in an IndyCar and possibly come over full-time?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah, look, I just appreciate Team Penske allowing me to jump in an INDYCAR, jump in the INDYCAR Challenge. It's been fun. I'm taking it onboard and learning. I'm learning some tracks I've never been to before in real life. For instance, Barber last week, Michigan as a speedway, learning the oval side.

Look, for me right now it's a wait-and-see type thing. Obviously the Indy GP is put off. It's a matter of waiting and seeing what goes on with border controls and travel restrictions, all that sort of stuff.

It's all good. Just have to keep doing what I can do. I'm focused on keeping myself fit, like Simon said, making sure I'm ready whenever the call comes. We'll see how we go.

Q. Simon, it's obvious you're all in on this deal, wearing your driver's suit. When will we see a virtual Norman package?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Norman comes at the end of every race to give me kisses. He was very excited today like he can be when I win a race.

The biggest thing about the race suit is my fellow drivers, they think I sleep in my race suit. I just wanted to show that I do sleep in my race suit.

I also wanted to give some love to DXC. In these tough times, our sponsors are there for us. DXC Technology has been a phenomenal partner. We transitioned from HPE to DXE. I've had lot of good luck with that car. I love these guys. End of the day it's a relationship and we work really hard on it with Team Penske. I just felt like wearing the race suit was probably the best way to represent them.

THE MODERATOR: We will go ahead and end today's virtual press conference. Thank you Simon, Scott and Dale for joining us.

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