NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart served as the primary driver for a Goodyear tire test late Tuesday morning and early Tuesday afternoon at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bowman-Gray is a 1⁄4-mile asphalt flat oval short track and NASCAR’s longest-running weekly race track. The legendary track also hosted 29 Cup Series races from 1958 to 1971.
The tire test was held in preparation for the Next Gen car’s first “race” – the 2022 preseason non-points Clash, which will be held Feb. 6 on a made-from-scratch ¼-mile asphalt track which will be constructed inside the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“It was fun today to get a chance to come up here, to be invited by NASCAR to come up and do the tire test for the Coliseum race. This is a track I’ve only been to one time and got to watch the races,” Stewart said. “So, it was pretty cool to be on track here. It was fun and to get a chance to drive the Next Gen car was cool, too.
“Goodyear had a good plan coming into today, and I think they’re pretty happy with the results that they got. 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.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Photo by: Grace Krenrich
Following the tire test, former drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer – who both work as TV analysts covering the sport for NBC and Fox, respectively – were allowed to run laps in the car to gain some hands-on experience they could use when discussing the car next season when it debuts in the Cup Series.
Both drivers seemed especially surprised by braking performance of the Next Gen car and grip produced by 18-inch tires.
“It’s different than anything I’ve ever drove in NASCAR. The braking ability and the braking performance of the car is probably the one thing that stood out to me the most. That was the one thing that took the most to get used to,” Earnhardt said.
“I’m using the brake pedals the same way I’ve used the brake pedals all my life but this car stops so much better. I’m over-slowing the car way too much. 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 too unfamiliar. It doesn’t feel too strange. It does everything like a stock car, just better.”
Nascar Next Gen
Photo by: Grace Krenrich
Said Bowyer: “First and foremost, I was glad that I was asked to come out here and do this. Dale and I felt like we needed to have that first-hand feel of what this Next Gen car is all about. I’m very impressed, very impressed with the grip level, the braking power.
“I’ve never been on this track. I’ve been in the grandstands – up there in the ‘Beer Garden’ more than any seat. You know, this Next Gen car, it’s something new for our sport and I want it to be good for everybody. I think this was a good test for that.
“Man, I’m telling you there’s close racing quarters out there. With these guys, there’s going to be some hurt feelings leaving that LA Coliseum race track out there.”
Earnhardt said the tire change may be the one issue some drivers will have the most difficulty getting accustomed to and said it was akin to the move from bias play to radial tires in 1989.
“We saw Tony step out a couple times (during the Goodyear test) and spin the car out. He noted that the shorter sidewall tire, it’s a little harder to understand when that tire is going to lose the grip. We went through sort of the same thing when we went from bias ply to the radial tire,” Earnhardt said.
“A lot of guys complained of not being able to feel the tire when they got loose and they would crash with no warning. Over time, we adjust and we adapt and get comfortable. It will take the drivers a while to get comfortable with this new tire.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of guys step over that line because they’re not familiar with it; they’re not familiar where the limit is yet with this tire. I think contact with another car with spin the car more easily for the same reason. It should be a pretty wild show. I can’t wait to check it out.”
Earnhardt, especially, said he was open to getting as much time behind the wheel of a Next Gen car before the 2022 season begins.
“I begged them to get me at some more tests. Martinsville, Daytona, Charlotte – I would love to get behind the wheel one of these cars and get some more seat time in the car to understand them better,” he said.
“I still had a long way to go, personally, until I could get to a point where I could maximize my lap times. I think I would need another day running 8 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) before I think I would get where I need to be personally.”