Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer enjoyed their first experience with the Next Gen race car Tuesday in getting to run some laps at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Earnhardt and Bowyer got to have fun after Tony Stewart put in several hours testing tires for Goodyear in preparation for the L.A. Coliseum race. NASCAR officials are building a temporary short track in the Coliseum for an exhibition race on Feb. 6, 2022.
The two retired drivers turned broadcasters, Earnhardt with NBC and Bowyer with Fox, ran less than 70 laps at Bowman Gray just to get a feel for the new car. It was mainly an educational experience, something to take into the broadcast booth when the vehicle debuts next season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I was very anxious to feel and sense all the things the car is doing,” Earnhardt said. “I begged them to get me in some more tests. The next time they go to a Martinsville, even Daytona, Charlotte, I would love to get behind the wheel of anybody’s car and get some more time in the cars to understand them better with the sole purpose of trying to get better in the booth.”
Tuesday was the first time Earnhardt not only turned a lap at Bowman Gray but visited the facility. Only 45 minutes from his residence, Earnhardt has “been dying” to go there and was a big fan of the television show on The History Channel centered around the track.
Turning laps in the Madhouse!
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 26, 2021
“It was fun to be able to come here; it’s really cool to be able to get some laps,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a very intimidating place. The guardrail, you’re racing around there, and that guardrail is just chewed up, and it’s daring you to hit it. That in itself was a great experience for me, no matter what car I was driving today. It was awesome to come here and experience this place behind the wheel.”
Earnhardt didn’t have any complaints about the car but acknowledged he hadn’t spent as much time in it as those going to race it. The only thing that stood out was Earnhardt admitting he had a ways to go before he felt like he maximized lap time.
“The car does everything better than anything I’ve driven in NASCAR,” Earnhardt said. “The braking ability and braking performance of the car was probably the one thing that stood out to me the most. That was the one thing that took the most to get used to; I’m using the brake pedal the same way that I’ve used a brake pedal all my life, but this car stops so much better. I’m over-slowing the car way too much getting into the corner.
“But it has a bigger tire on it. More grip. It has better drive off the corner with that tire. It just does everything better. It doesn’t feel, though, too unfamiliar. It doesn’t feel too strange. It does everything like a stock car, just better.”
Stewart’s testing portion of the day took place first, and then Earnhardt ran the car before Bowyer closed out the day. Bowyer called the experience “awesome” and was appreciative of being asked to do it.
“Dale and I have both talked about this and felt like we needed to have that firsthand feel of what this Next Gen car is all about,” Bowyer said. “Very impressed. Very impressed with the grip level, the braking power. I’m glad I got to come out here to Bowman Gray.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 26, 2021
Shifting was a variable that stood out to Bowyer. He went to put the car in fourth gear as he grew accustomed to racing and learned it was all about second gear now.
“I was actually practicing shifting because that shifter is so much different than what we had,” Bowyer said. “The brakes are phenomenal. That’s something that caught me off guard. They’re a little bit better than what we had. Part of that is the brake package, and part of that is the car itself — the suspension components, and then the tire. The tire is wider, quite a bit wider than we have. So that much more rubber on the racetrack is more grip for those guys to go out and do business.”
Despite the short amount of time behind the wheel, Earnhardt and Bowyer left feeling pleased about the car and optimistic about its first outing in L.A.
“I was really skeptical,” Earnhardt said. “In my mind, if you take the current car we have and try to drive around this track, it’s not going to be a lot of fun. You’re not going to be able to get the power down; the tire is too small, it’s not going to brake into the corner as well. You’re going to slide the left-front tire and flat-spot the tire; it’s going to chatter the rear tires into the corner.
“But this car, all the things I was worried about, it does them all, and it does them well. I think this car is a great match for this track or any track. Whereas the car we have now doesn’t work everywhere and is difficult in places like this. So, I’m sold now.
“I was skeptical, but I think it’s going to work really well. The car gets around the corner; it’s not too small. I thought the track would be too small for our cars, and they just wouldn’t handle and drive well, but this is a totally different beast.”