A Historical Thing: The Coca-Cola 600

Jim BobCorrespondent IMay 21, 2009

CONCORD, NC - MAY 25: Brian Vickers, driver of the #83 Red Bull Toyota, leads Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #77 Mobil 1 Dodge, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, 2008 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

After 50 years, it comes to no surprise of the amount of history that has transpired since the track’s inaugural event in 1960.

The inaugural event was originally scheduled to run on Memorial Day. However, it was delayed three weeks while construction crews building the track finished their work.

Joe Lee Johnson won the inaugural event, becoming one of 14 drivers to win the 600-mile race, his second and final win of his 56-race career.

Several drivers have set milestones of their own at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Casey Mears won the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 for his first career victory. The team took a gamble at the end of the race on fuel to score the win.

“We had a top-five race car the year we won the race,” Mears said of his first Cup Series victory. “We ran in the top five for pretty much the whole race and, at the end, made the call to win. Sometimes, I think a little bit gets taken away from us on that win because it turned out to be fuel mileage. But, it wasn’t like we were running 20th and made a call to try and steal one. We were running in the top five with a lot of guys who had the opportunity to make the same call and didn’t. We made the right call and it was fun.”

Other drivers who have collected their first career Cup Series victory at Charlotte include Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth.

Many drivers have recorded their first career Cup Series start at the Coca-Cola 600. Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Sr., Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. call their Lowe’s Motor Speedway start their first Cup Series start.

However, one of the most notable debuts at Lowe’s Motor Speedway is Janet Guthrie. Guthrie not only made her series debut at Lowe’s, she also became the first female to race at a superspeedway in the Cup Series.

The Coca-Cola 600 also serves as the longest race on the schedule. It provides a unique challenge the the drivers and crews, who switch from a normal 400-500 mile race, to this one-of-a-kind 600-mile event.

“It’s long,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. of the Coca-Cola 600. “We run 500 miles, and your body gets used to it. You think you wouldn’t notice another 100 miles added, but mentally you do. That last 100 miles is really tough mentally. Trying to stay focused and trying to stay devoted to what you’re doing because it’s so easy just to kind of go, ‘I’m tired.’ Physically it’s not a problem, but mentally your brain is just worked after it’s over with. I like it. I love this racetrack. I love this area. I’m glad to be home these two weeks. I think it’s awesome we run a 600-mile race at Charlotte.”

Tony Stewart, who won last weekend’s All-Star Race, fell just five laps short of his second career points-paying victory at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and his first Coca-Cola 600 victory when he blew a right-front tire with more then a five second lead, relegating him to an 18th place finish.

Joey Logano, who is celebrating his 19th birthday on Sunday, will making his Coca-Cola 600 debut. Like several drivers who come to the race for their first time, Logano says he doesn’t know what to expect.

“I’m not sure what to think about 600 miles,” commented Logano. “That’s a lot of miles and a long race.”

Quote This:

Scott Riggs on the Coca-Cola 600: “I enjoy it but it’s a long race and it takes a lot out of you physically. I think you have to pace yourself through the 600 miles. You can get too aggressive at the beginning of the race. You have to take care of your equipment during the first 500 miles and race the last 100 miles.”

Tony Stewart on the difference between the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600: “We go from the shortest race of the year to the longest race of the year. The main difference, besides the distance, is that the Coke 600 starts in the daytime and ends at night, whereas the All-Star Race started at night. We go from a sprint race to an endurance race.”

Kyle Busch on why Lowe’s Motor Speedway is his favorite track: “Charlotte is my favorite racetrack for a lot of reasons. Just growing up watching races on TV, I loved watching the All-Star race under the lights and the 600 with all the sparks flying and all the guys going after hard-fought, hard-racing wins. The Nationwide Series has been good to me there. The Truck Series has been pretty good to me there, too. But a Cup Series win has eluded me there.”

More Weekend Headlines:

If Bill Elliott, who is outside of the top-35 in owner’s points, qualifies for the event, he will make his 800th career start in the Sprint Cup Series.

Fans from all 50 states as well as Canada, Australia, Belguim, Bermuda, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom will be at the Coca-Cola 600, according to track officials, on Sunday.

Lowe’s Motor Speedway will be selecting, at random, a total of 47 fans to wave the green flag during Sprint Cup Series qualifying on Thursday night.

Fourteen drivers will be racing in both the Nationwide and Cup Series races this weekend. These drivers are Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Ragan, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Tony Raines, David Gilliland, Carl Edwards, Joe Nemechek, Paul Menard, and Scott Speed.

Weekend at a Glance:

What: The 50th Coca-Cola 600
Where: Lowe’s Motor Speedway (Charlotte, NC)
When: Sunday, May 24 at 5:45 p.m. ET
Length: 400 laps, 600 miles
TV: FOX, DirecTv NASCAR Hotpass (Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.)
2008 Winner: Kasey Kahne
2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch

Weekend Schedule:

Practice 1–Thursday at 4:30 p.m. ET
Qualifying–Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET
Practice 2–Saturday at 2:45 p.m. ET
Final Practice–Saturday at 6 p.m. ET

Comin’ Up:

Up next on the Sprint Cup Series schedule is Dover International Spedway for the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Heluva Good Sour Cream Dups & Cheese on Sunday, May 31. Kyle Busch will come in as the defending winner of the event.


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