For as much as the NASCAR Next Gen car represents the sport's future, part of the process of its development is about to take place on a stage featuring elements of its past -- a historic racetrack with three former Cup Series stars taking the car for a spin.
According to a report by Jim Utter of Motorsport.com, retired drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer are expected to participate in a test of the NASCAR Next Gen car Tuesday at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The test, which will run the Next Gen car on a track identical to the one that will be constructed for the Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 2022, will be run with former drivers in part so as to not give any current drivers an advantage.
The test will mark a return for Cup cars to Bowman Gray Stadium, a legendary quarter-mile oval that hosted Cup Series races from 1958 until 1971. Winners at the track, which runs around the perimeter of a football field, include Hall of Fame drivers such as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Rex White and more.
Bowman Gray Stadium is still a popular draw for local racing in North Carolina, and the track was most recently visited by a NASCAR national touring series from 2011 to 2015 when the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (now the ARCA Menards Series East) raced there. Winners at Bowman Gray Stadium included current Cup Series drivers Matt DiBenedetto, Corey LaJoie and Scott Heckert as well as Camping World Truck Series driver Ben Rhodes and NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy.
While Earnhardt, Stewart and Bowyer are no longer racing in Cup, the three aren't necessarily rusty behind the wheel of a race car. Earnhardt has run annual one-offs in the Xfinity Series since his retirement at the end of the 2017 season, and finished 14th last month at Richmond. Bowyer, now an analyst for Fox Sports, last raced in NASCAR at the end of the 2020 season, and Stewart has continued to race since hanging it up in NASCAR at the end of 2016.