NASCAR has revealed the next drivers to get their hands on the Next Gen stock cars. The sanctioning body will turn to a Hall of Fame inductee-turned-analyst and a former driver for Stewart-Haas Racing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer will take part in a Next Gen session on Tuesday, October 26.
Writer Jim Utter of Motorsport.com spoke to multiple sources, who confirmed that Earnhardt and Bowyer will take part in a session at Bowman Gray Stadium, a quarter-mile asphalt flat oval short track in Winston-Salem, N.C. These sources also told Utter that Tony Stewart will take part in the session. This test will help NASCAR officials prepare for the first-ever Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which will take place on February 6.
NASCAR confirmed some of the information on Monday, October 25. The sanctioning body announced that Bowyer and Earnhardt would take turns behind the wheel of the next Gen stock cars. The media release did not mention Stewart, but FOX Sports writer Bob Pockrass noted that the Hall of Famer will do a Goodyear test in the morning.
Putting three former drivers in the Next Gen cars will help keep a level playing field while providing better information for future broadcasts. None of the current drivers will have the opportunity to gain an advantage by testing out the stock cars on another short track. Though Stewart will have the opportunity to provide some crucial information to his four-car stable.
Bowyer Has the Most Recent Cup Experience of the Trio
The three drivers make sense as potential participants in the Next Gen test considering that they have all contended in recent seasons. Stewart finished out his Cup Series career with one final season in 2016, as well as one win.
Earnhardt, on the other hand, retired after the 2017 Cup Series season, but he has continued to compete in a different manner. The Hall of Fame inductee has made an annual start in the Xfinity Series and has posted three top-five finishes for JR Motorsports.
Bowyer, by comparison, only walked away after the 2020 season. He finished out his NASCAR Cup Series career with Stewart-Haas Racing and secured a spot in the playoffs by virtue of points. He made it to the Round of 12 before elimination and ultimately walked away from the No. 14 Ford Mustang after the championship race at Phoenix.
Bowyer is now an analyst for FOX Sports, and he spent the first half of the 2021 season working with Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon. He will continue in this role in 2022 while Gordon heads to Hendrick Motorsports full-time, but Bowyer will first test out the Next Gen cars.
NASCAR Will Use a Truck Series Driver for Another Test
The idea of using non-Cup Series drivers for a Next Gen test is nothing new for the sanctioning body. NASCAR will also turn to a member of the Camping World Truck Series roster to prepare for the second dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stewart Friesen, the driver of the No. 52 entry, will head to the half-mile banked Wythe Raceway in Virginia sometime in the coming months. He will test out the Next Gen stock cars on the clay track while providing key feedback about how the cars handle the alternate surface.
Friesen has considerable experience on dirt tracks. He competed in the Bristol dirt race on March 29 and finished 12th overall. He also has made four starts at the Eldora dirt track, posting three top-five finishes and a win in the 2019 season. Now Friesen will test out another dirt track and a different style of vehicle.