Mix of new, old in Next Gen car’s appearance at Bowman Gray

Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Goodyear technicians and NASCAR officials gathered data and information Tuesday that will help determine the tire selection for next season’s Clash at the Coliseum. Accomplishing that came at the intersection of the Next Gen car of NASCAR’s future with a venerable track from the Cup Series’ past.

The 2022 vehicle turned laps Tuesday at historic Bowman Gray Stadium in an unofficial preliminary to the Feb. 6 exhibition race in Los Angeles. Goodyear and NASCAR invited three recently retired stars with their own old-school cred for the driving duties — Hall of Famer Tony Stewart for the tire testing in the morning session, and racers turned broadcasters Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer for hot laps in the afternoon.

RELATED: Next Gen timeline | Photos from Bowman Gray

For all three drivers, it marked their first stints behind the wheel of the next Cup Series car, and the reviews were generally positive, with Earnhardt saying, “The car does everything better than anything I’ve ever drove in NASCAR.”

“This car does all the things that I was worried about, it does them all and it does them well,” he said. “I think this car is a great match for this track or any track whereas the car that 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. 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.”

Bowyer, who will be part of FOX Sports’ broadcasting crew for the Clash exhibition, said he was also swayed by the car’s responsiveness as he quickly got up to speed, sorting through the car’s new sequential shifter and adjusting to his seat and wheel positioning. He made laps under the watchful eye of longtime crew chief analyst Larry McReynolds, his broadcasting colleague.

“Very impressed with the grip level, the braking power, the tire that Goodyear chose for this,” Bowyer said. “I’m glad again that I got to come out here to Bowman Gray. I live in Winston, guys. I’ve been here a lot in the grandstands, up there in that beer garden more than any seat, but I wanted to come out here and turn some laps.”

Stewart had been to the stadium once before, attending the 2009 opener by tagging along with Bobby Hutchens — a longtime Modified driver who was then Stewart-Haas Racing’s competition director. Stewart’s appearance back then created a buzz in the Bowman Gray garage, fueling speculation that he might one day compete there. “Oh, yeah. I like running everywhere, places I’ve never been to,” Stewart told the Winston-Salem Journal then.

2021 Oct26 Next Gen 2 Main Image
Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media

Stewart lent a hand to Hutchens’ crew that night, but Tuesday got his chance behind the wheel at the stadium. Goodyear officials tested

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