The NASCAR Next Gen car will make its racing début with the 2022 Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Since a stadium short track is new territory for NASCAR’s modern era (such races were held in the 1950s), NASCAR and Goodyear spent Tuesday conducting tyre and car tests at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Tony Stewart drove a Next Gen test car as part of the Goodyear session, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer did so for the car itself.
Nicknamed “The Madhouse”, Bowman Gray hosted Cup races from 1958 to 1971, the final year before the start of what is considered the modern era. The track is an active American football stadium that is currently used by the Winston-Salem State University college football team, while the surrounding quarter-mile oval has seen series such as the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and ARCA Menards Series East.
The Coliseum, also a college football stadium, previously hosted racing such as rallycross and motocross, but stock cars will be a new foray. Its temporary short track for the Clash will resemble Bowman Gray, hence the decision to use the venue for the test.
Stewart, the co-owner of Cup team Stewart-Haas Racing, turned laps in the Goodyear test. The three-time champion, who was most recently running the Camping World SRX Series and winning its inaugural championship, last drove in an official NASCAR-sanctioned event with the 2016 season finale, though he has driven in non-NASCAR demonstrations since.
“This is a track I’ve only been to one time and got to watch the races, so it was pretty cool to be on track here,” said Stewart after his run. “It was fun and to get a chance to drive the Next Gen car was cool too.
“If it was a track that I had already been on with the other car it would be easier to compare, but it’s kind of apples and oranges when it’s a different car and different track. So it’s hard to tell [the differences], honestly.
“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 tyre and they were pretty happy with it and I think that’s probably a combination of what they’ll bring out West.
“I haven’t been in [a Cup car] for five years. It’s fun to get in and do something different and do something I haven’t been able to do for a long time now.”
Earnhardt has never driven at Bowman Gray in any capacity, though the longtime fan favourite and current NBC analyst tweeted, “This thing is fun as hell. Thanks for letting me take a few laps. Big thanks to @BGSRacing for the hospitality.”
Burt Myers, a ten-time Modified track champion at Bowman Gray, was present to give pointers to Earnhardt. Earnhardt commented that he “was awesome and his advice was put straight to use. I wished only that he could have strapped in for some laps.”
The Bowman Gray tests comes on the heels of a seventeen-team Next Gen session at the Charlotte Roval two weeks prior. Further tests are planned at Wyche Raceway to prepare for the Bristol Dirt race and organisational tests beginning on Charlotte’s oval configuration on 17/18 November.