By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
In preparation for The Clash at the LA Coliseum, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Clint Bowyer each drove NASCAR’s Next Gen Cup Series car at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, shook the car down in a Goodyear Tire test. Goodyear brought several different tire compounds to determine which would best fit the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum track. Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. closely matches the layout the California track will hold.
The radical departure from the decades’ old design of the Cup car is something that each driver will adapt to. During the tire test, The Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner spun at least twice during one of the three separate 75-lap runs. The 18-inch Goodyear tire and independent suspension provide a different line at which the amount of grip is sufficient.
“I think at (The Clash), we’re going to see a lot of guys step over that line because they’re not familiar with it,” Earnhardt predicted. “They’re not familiar with where that limit is just yet. This tire is going to get some guys and surprise them. I think also contact with another car will spin the car more easily just because of the same reason. It should be a pretty wild show. I can’t wait to tune in and check it out.”
While the car will take some adapting, some of the improvements are already evident. At both the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval test earlier this month and at Bowman Gray, the braking abilities were on display. Speeds at the Roval were up during the test, in part due to the ability to drive deeper into the corner.
At Bowman Gray, Earnhardt treated the Next Gen car much like other NASCAR cars he’s driven. However, that meant that he was slowing the car much more than he needed to. Bowyer on the other hand locked up the tires several times entering Turn 1 at Bowman Gray.
“The car does everything better than anything I’ve ever drove in NASCAR,” Earnhardt admitted. “The braking ability and braking performance of the car is probably the one thing that stood out to me. That was the one thing that took the most to get used to.
“I’m using the brake pedal the same way that I’ve used the brake pedal all my life, but this car stopped so much better. I’m over slowing the car way too much getting into the corner. (With) 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, doesn’t feel too strange.”
While the Next Gen car is familiar in its’ feel, the adaptation to the new grip level is also a familiar place. The most recent time that drivers in NASCAR had to adapt to a change in grip levels was Goodyear’s move from the bias-ply tire to the radial tire in 1989 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The radial tire has been the standard in the Cup Series since 1990.
Earnhardt compared the Next Gen driving adjustments to the change from bias-ply to radial tires.
“We saw Tony step out a couple of times here and spin the car out,” Earnhardt explained. “He’s noted that the shorter side wall tire, it’s a little harder to understand when that tire is going to lose the grip.
“We went through this same sort of thing when they went away from the bias-ply to the radial tire. Drivers complained about not being able to feel the tire when it would get loose, and they would crash and spin out with no warnings. Over time we adjust, and we adapt, and we get comfortable. It’ll take the drivers a while to get comfortable with this new low-profile tire.”
More tests of the Next Gen car are upcoming. The next organizational test is scheduled on Charlotte’s Oval on November 17-18. Tests are also scheduled at Atlanta Motor Speedway (tire test, date TBA), Daytona International Speedway (organizational, January 11-12), Phoenix Raceway (organizational, December 14-15), and Wythe Raceway (tire test, date TBA).
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Erick Messer / Kickin’ the Tires.