The past and future of the NASCAR Cup Series converged Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. when a trio of retired stars strapped in to test the sport's Next Gen car at historic Bowman Gray Stadium. It ended up being a day that will surely continue to build anticipation for the Cup Series' car of 2022 and beyond, as the Next Gen car earned solid endorsements from three of NASCAR's most prominent drivers of the last 20 years.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer all took turns behind the wheel of the Next Gen car at a Goodyear tire test that will help determine the tire selection for next year's Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Taking to Bowman Gray's historic quarter-mile oval -- which the LA Coliseum's temporary track will resemble -- the three drivers were all left with positive impressions of the car.
Earnhardt in particular raved about the Next Gen car.
"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," Earnhardt said in a report by Zack Albert of NASCAR.com. "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."
The day's test featured two different tire compounds brought by Goodyear -- one which was raced at Martinsville Speedway earlier this year and another compound which was much softer. Stewart ended up finding the limits of the tires, spinning a few times in the north turn before signing off on what Goodyear had brought.
"I think what they brought with the control set is probably a little harder than what they need," Stewart said. "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."
Of the three drivers at Tuesday's test, Bowyer had the most recent experience of all. He only stepped out of the driver's seat last year, when he retired to take a broadcasting job with Fox Sports. Bowyer stated that he was impressed with the grip level and braking power of the Next Gen car.
"You're just constantly on the binders trying to woe it up. That thing wants to go," Bowyer told Fox Sports colleague Larry McReynolds. "This Next Gen car, I wanted to get in that thing. I wanted to feel that -- I need to feel that -- from the first-hand perspective of being in that racecar. Me and Dale Jr. both thought that we got that opportunity, and I cannot wait to see these guys do battle out there."
Tuesday's test was a prelude to the debut of the Next Gen car, which will take place on a unique stage. The first race for the Next Gen car will be the Clash at the Coliseum on Feb. 6, an exhibition race which will take place two weeks before the Daytona 500 and one week before Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.