The two-time Daytona 500 winner hasn’t raced a Cup car since his retirement following the 2017 season, but is participating in a two-day test at Daytona International Speedway with his former Hendrick Motorsports team while reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson is competing in the Chili Bowl, an important short track midget racing event.
Speaking following the first day of running, 47-year-old Earnhardt explained that he had found the test useful to inform his punditry work, and said the new machine “does everything right.”
However, he said experienced drivers who had gone through previous car changes wouldn’t be at an advantage because the Car of Tomorrow (COT) arriving in 2007/2008 and the introduction of the Gen-6 car in 2013 aren’t really that comparable.
“I don’t think I’ve been a part of the sport when there’s been so many unknowns,” he explained.
“Everybody goes in really with a blank sheet of paper and these teams are learning and absorbing so much data. I don’t know if I have ever been part of the sport where this has happened.
“Even with the COT, that car was somewhat like the race cars we were driving [before], it just looked different.
“But this is a completely different car from the ground up. And all the components are – not foreign, but they’re different.”
NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Donald Warr, AMS
Earnhardt also took part in draft practice during day one of the Daytona test, which Penske rookie Austin Cindric said featured “pretty hard racing for a test session”.
Earnhardt said he expects the rack and pinion steering system that replaces the old pitman-arm style steering system to be one of the biggest challenges for drivers to get used to at the larger tracks, with drivers required to be more precise than ever before.
“The rack and pinion steering is probably the one thing that that would be the most difficult to get used to,” he said.
“It’s so much different than the old style, the car steers very fast.
“Where you would turn the wheel quite a bit to get around the corner or try to get to a car to side draft, you’re very almost surgical with the steering now.
“Very small movements to make the car do a lot and so you can’t get real crazy with the steering wheel because the car is just going to take off (and) start darting around.
“That’s one of the things that I think would be most difficult to get used to. The rack and pinion steering and how fast it is.”