Actually the same car: Ross Chastain repeats in No. 1, proves Next Gen’s diversity

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James Gilbert
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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Last year, Ross Chastain wrecked out of the Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway with seven laps remaining. Bigger issue was, Chastain needed to be able to compete three days later in the Daytona 500. And his primary car was shot.

Chastain’s team at the time, Chip Ganassi Racing, had to bring out and prep up a backup.

“I got in for practice the next day and I called them out, ‘There’s no way, this is the same car, same interior,’ ” Chastain said. “They’re like, ‘No, it’s all new, but it’s all that good. It’s that well-prepared.’ They prepare it that close that you can’t tell a difference.

(‘Dega) Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

“Same thing with these cars. I can’t tell a difference week in, week out. I can’t tell that it’s the same car because I can’t tell that one’s any different.”

RELATED: Talladega race results

Chastain finished seventh in that 2021 Daytona 500 – a career-best there – and “these cars” he referred to would be the Next Gen cars introduced in 2022. The throwback story becomes present-day relevant because unlike at Daytona, the race car Chastain drove Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway was actually the same as the one he raced back in March at Circuit of The Americas. Yet, he still couldn’t have confidently known that without confirmation from his new team, Trackhouse Racing.

The story gets better. The Duel-to-500 path was at the same track, so same setup. In this year’s version, COTA is a road course, while Talladega is a superspeedway. The venues couldn’t be more different. And the cherry on top: Chastain won at both.

(COTA) Dylan Buell | Getty Images

“It makes it so special that Jim France and the NASCAR family, the France family, their vision for this car … in a month, you can bring a car back, you (can) win at a road course and win at Talladega,” Chastain said. “That hasn’t happened since the ’60s. I don’t know, farther back. I have no idea. They would have different cars.

“It’s wild. That’s more what it means to me, that this car is capable of that.”

COTA marked Chastain’s first career victory at NASCAR’s top level. Talladega made him only the second driver, joining William Byron (also two wins), to capture more than one checkered flag this season. They’re 10 races in with Dover Motor Speedway up next (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, FS1).

RELATED: ‘So special’ to win Talladega in COTA car

Granted, the process of reusing Chastain’s COTA-winning car wasn’t as simple as quick wash. There was still a complete dismantling and rebuilding. What qualifies the car as the same is the chassis, which, to be clear by Merriam-Webster’s definition, is the supporting frame of a structure.

“Really comes down to just the whole Next Gen platform,” crew chief Phil Surgen said. “All the cars are the same, have the same range of adjustments, same group of parts. All the cars right now are essentially universal. We took that car after it was done at COTA, cleaned it up, set it up a little bit differently to come here (Talladega). There’s no reason it can’t race at a different try to of track, (like) an oval next time, a downforce oval.”

And for very similar reasons, Surgen wouldn’t put this car above any others in Trackhouse Racing’s garage.

“No, I would say it’s exactly the same,” he said. “In fact, there’s so many parts on ’em that are interchangeable, there’s likely a different group of parts on this car – on the chassis element – than there was on the car when it raced at COTA.”

Talladega was still proof to Surgen, who’s in his second-full time season atop the pit box, cars can be successfully recycled into the schedule lineup every three or four weeks.

THROWBACK: Who is Trackhouse Racing?

COTA and Talladega combined proved to team owner Justin Marks this season was the perfect time to enter NASCAR. He formed Trackhouse Racing because of what Next Gen promised: a more financially friendly car to help level the playing field. Trackhouse Racing is barely 2 years old at this season, and it is home to one of the two multi-race winners, just like Hendrick Motorsports, and owns as many wins as Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This new car represents an opportunity for us to make a statement quickly,” Marks said, “to where, if we came in with a Gen-6 car, the Gen-5 car, we’re up against teams that have so much engineering depth and money. Now we’re all kind of playing with the same ball. I say if we can build a team around this ball, give you control of it, we can really, really do great things.”