Twelve years have done little to soften the critical stance of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In a one-word tweet in 2019, Earnhardt expressed his lingering apprehension about embracing NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow legacy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has lived a lot in NASCAR, but nothing like the car of tomorrow
Since appearing in his first Busch Series (now Xfinity) race in 1996, Earnhardt has been there, done that. I’ve been everywhere, I’ve done everything except, maybe, I didn’t manage to win a pilot’s title. But still, he has already experienced new car tests. Nothing new.
Now, as NBC Sports broadcaster and owner of Team Xfinity, Earnhardt was curious about the Next Gen cars, which will debut at The Clash at the Coliseum on February 6. With Kyle Larson competing — and watching TV — at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals last week, there was an opening to test the No. 5 Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway. He begged Hendrick Motorsports Vice President of Competition Chad Knaus with a series of texts before getting the nod.
Immediately Cup Series fans began planning Earnhardt’s return to the premier series for the first time since 2017, but after the second day of testing on January 12, he shot down any chance of “taking risks” – for the moment.
When it comes to Next Gen cars, Earnhardt talked about how much teams still need to learn. But if asked to compare NASCAR’s latest technology to the 2007 Car of Tomorrow (CoT) tests, no comparison remains.
Earnhardt criticized CoT for the way he behaved on the track
The car of tomorrow should never have had its day, Earnhardt believes. As part of the industry’s plan to create safer cars following the recent spate of on-track deaths, the model was used on the first series from 2008 to 2012. Earnhardt’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. , died of an accident on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Among Earnhardt’s significant criticisms of CoT was his challenge to manage it, NESN reported.
It also didn’t like the boxy feel of the generic chassis.
It’s no coincidence that two of Earnhardt’s worst seasons (2009 and 2010) developed during the CoT era. In fact, here is Earnhardt’s driver rankings for every season NASCAR has used the CoT model:
- 2008: 12
- 2009: 25
- 2010: 21
- 2011: 7
- 2012: 12
After struggling with the CoT, Earnhardt restarted her career with a new role model
What Earnhardt needed was a reboot. He received it with the Gen-6 model, which he drove for the last five seasons of his career. After winning just two checkered flags in 178 starts driving a CoT, Earnhardt bounced back with three strong seasons.
When NASCAR finally released him from the CoT, Earnhardt compiled 10 top fives and 22 top 10s, finishing fifth in the 2013 drivers standings. He won seven races combined in 2014 and 2015.
With the arrival of Next Gen cars, Earnhardt said unknown automotive factors were dominating conversations at Daytona.
“Everyone really comes in with a blank sheet of paper,” Earnhart said, per Autosport.
That may be true, but in CoT testing from 2007 and up to 2012, Earnhardt’s to-do list was topped with one chore: getting ready to take out the trash.
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