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Dale Jr. thrilled with chance to drive Next Gen car at Bowman Gray

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Past and present came together in a unique way Tuesday, as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer drove the Next Gen car at historic Bowman Gray Stadium.

“It’s awesome to come here and experience this place behind the wheel,” said Earnhardt, whose grandfather, Ralph, raced at this track.

Of the three drivers in the car Tuesday, Stewart was the busiest. He drove the car as part of a tire test to help Goodyear prepare for the Feb. 6 NASCAR Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made multiple runs.

Earnhardt and Bowyer each drove about 50 laps to familiarize themselves with the new car that debuts at the Clash.

NASCAR chose Bowman Gray Stadium - which has hosted racing since 1949 - because the flat quarter-mile track around a football field is the same setup that will be built for the LA Memorial Coliseum.

Earnhardt said he’s looking forward to seeing the Next Gen car race on that tight circuit in Los Angeles after running laps at Bowman Gray.

“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,” he said. “I’m sold now. I was skeptical, but I think it’s going to work really well.”

NASCAR Next Gen test car at Bowman Gray Stadium

WINSTON SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 26: Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives the NASCAR Next Gen car around the track at Bowman Gray Stadium during a testing session on October 26, 2021 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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Earnhardt was impressed with how the car handled on the tight track.

“I’m using the brake pedal the same way that I’ve used the brake pedal all my life, but this car stops so much better,” he said. “I’m over-slowing the car way too much in the corners. It has a bigger tire on it, more grip. It has better drive off the corner with that tire. It just does everything better.”

Earnhardt announced this week he will run the April 8 Xfinity race at Martinsville. So, would he be willing to run a race at Bowman Gray?

“I would get used up out there,” he said. “This place is difficult and is intimidating. That wall is doing all kinds of things down the straightaway. You go out there and take a look at it and see it’s all over the place. I would get used up out here.

“The guys that come run here. They know this place. They’ve got it figured out. They know how to get around here. They know how to take advantage of the weak. They would take advantage of me quick.”
Bowyer also was excited with the car and what the racing could be like at the LA Memorial Coliseum next season.

“I’m telling you, close racing out there (on that track), these guys, there’s going to be some hardcore feelings leaving that LA track out there,” he said.

Even though he has been out of a car for about a year, Bowyer remained competitive Tuesday.

“I was like half a second faster than Junior, and I hung a few tenths on (Stewart), I’m happy,” Bowyer said.

As for the tire testing, Stewart said he felt good about what Goodyear provided.

“Goodyear had a good plan coming into today, and I think they’re pretty happy with the results that they got,” Stewart said in comments provided by NASCAR.

“I think what they brought with the control set is probably a little harder than what they need. They brought a softer tire and they were pretty happy with it, and I think that’s probably a combination of what they’ll bring out West.”

The next test for the Next Gen car with Cup drivers is scheduled to take place Nov. 17-18 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval. Teams also are scheduled to test the car Dec. 14-15 at Phoenix, Jan. 11-12 at Daytona and in late January at Las Vegas.