DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Only a week away from formally being enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent Tuesday and Wednesday testing the Next Gen race cars at Daytona Int’l Speedway for his former team, Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt, 46, drove the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet normally piloted by NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, who was in Oklahoma participating in the Chili Bowl national midget race.
Earnhardt ran the full two day test — participating in a mock sprint race on Tuesday along with drafting practice and single car runs. After one full day in the car, Earnhardt was eager to share what he’d learned about the new generation of race car.
It was obvious Earnhardt had strong reactions to the new car and remains very optimistic about the potential it has in competition. He offered interesting details and comparisons about the new and previous cars.
“At Daytona, I never drove one of the cars with those big spoilers on the back,” Earnhardt said, noting the 7-inch spoiler on the 2022 cars. “So, I was pretty taken aback when we were drafting just how much drag is on the car.”
As for the steering, he said, “It’s very surgical. Somebody used that term yesterday and I think that’s a great way to describe it, very delicate, very small movements of the steering wheel are going to give you the same reaction in the car that a big movement or a lot of movement in the wheel would have in the old car.
“All these guys that drove with manual steering box, you get muscle memory. And when your car gets loose you got an idea, it’s instinctual how much you have to turn the wheel to correct that slide or catch the car. You know what to do, but you have to relearn all that with the rack and pinion [on new car]. You can’t rely on that muscle memory or instinct, but some guys will to a fault and make those adjustments they did all those years and that could get interesting and maybe a little messy in the race.”
Earnhardt was fifth quickest on Wednesday, answering his top five position in Tuesday’s late Test session.
“This has been fun,” he said. “I was kind of wondering about my broadcasting and how to do a better job, how to do the best job, and certainly for me having had some time in the car was a big benefit for me.
“I feel so much better about going into the booth today than I did a couple days ago, having not been behind the wheel of the car.”