Dale Jr. Pleased With Daytona Next Gen Testing

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

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 International Speedway for his former team, Hendrick Motorsports.

Earnhardt, 46, drove the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet normally piloted fulltime by 2021 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 smiling and eager to share what he’d learned about the new generation of race car – good information he plans to talk about as an analyst on NBC Sports’ broadcasts of the upcoming season.

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 – the feel and the competitive expectations.

“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, who finished on the podium in the GT class during the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona, will be back at the annual Daytona sports car season-opener later in January working for NBC Sports. But he said he has no plans to race. He recalled racing with his father in that 2001 Rolex and how the sports car regulars told the NASCAR drivers, ‘you only have push 80 percent in the race.’

“Now having worked the race with NBC the last couple years, those guys are [doing] qualifying [laps] every single lap of that race,” Earnhardt said. “These are the best road racers in the world in this race. I got no business out there. I don’t.

“It’s gotten more and more difficult I think for the non-IMSA guy to go into that world and be competitive in that world because of the talent and the ability and the speed, the pure speed of those guys is just ramped way up in the 20 years since I ran. I admire their ability and speed they maintain for 24 hours – the pace they run is pretty incredible to be honest with you.”

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.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

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