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Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands that “getting creative” — or “cheating,” as NASCAR refers to it — has been part of the sport since its start 75 years ago. Before the introduction of the Next Gen car in 2022, he also recognized that a battle was about to ensue between the teams and the sanctioning body, which wanted to end that creativity by using a car made out of vendor-supplied parts.

Junior was right.

In the first two years of the new car, it has been a constant game of cat and mouse, with multiple teams getting caught trying to alter parts and the governing body severely laying down the law each time. The NASCAR Hall of Famer recently provided his assessment on the increase in penalties and offered an answer the teams won’t like to hear.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. warned cheating in Next Gen car was imminent

Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows the mindset of the garage. Despite NASCAR’s best intentions with the Next Gen car trying to minimize cheating, the two-time Daytona 500 winner warned on his Dale Jr. Download podcast in 2021 that teams would still try to find any possible advantage with the new vehicle. 

“If you’re not trying to figure out how to cheat, you’re not going anywhere. With this new car, with new parts, new pieces, absolutely you’ve got to find an advantage,” Earnhardt bluntly admitted. “You’ve got to find an advantage secretly and keep it as secret, and keep it to yourself as long as you can before everybody catches on and before word gets out or somebody sees the part, before NASCAR catches you. 

“You’ve got to be willing to take that gamble that NASCAR is probably going to come down super hard on the first guy that gets caught for messing with some of their stuff because NASCAR takes offense. They’ve gave you these parts. They’re trying to make this car the next great thing, and they’re working real hard to have all of these vendors making these pieces. It’s just this big production, and you’re going to go screw it up, cheat it up. They’re going to be real upset about that. So get ready for them to come down hard on the first guy they catch.” 

Earnhardt addresses major penalties

Earnhardt made those comments months before the Next Gen car turned its first laps in the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum. Since then, numerous harsh penalties have been handed out to the teams. In 2023 alone, all four Hendrick Motorsports cars and the teams of Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, and Erik Jones were penalized for some type of modification. 

During a recent appearance with Kenny Wallace on his YouTube channel, Earnhardt was asked for his thoughts on NASCAR’s handling of penalties and governing the sport with the Next Gen car. 

“I’m pretty good with it. I always said that I want NASCAR to be strict and I want penalties to be severe,” he said. “Look, when I get caught or busted or in trouble, man, it sucks, and I don’t love that experience. But in my mind, I think that in racing, whether it’s a cheated-up part on a race car or a behavioral issue in the pits or a driver behind the wheel with a behavioral issue, you got to nip it in the bud. We’re not going to tiptoe up on to this. 

“I want a deterrent right then and there that that driver will never want to experience again. I think that NASCAR’s made a stand on messing with this car. It’s not going to be fun if you get busted fooling around with these parts. They’ve made that clear. I think that for the most part we won’t have much to worry about in terms of teams trying to cheat or do something with these race cars.” 

Earnhardt said “for the most part.”

Translation: Teams will still try to skirt the rules to seek an advantage. That’s all but guaranteed.

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