We have reached the weekend of one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events, the Coca-Cola 600. While it is a race, it is first a tribute to service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice. There really is no event like it in the sport.
In the 63 years of the prestigious race, there have been some incredible moments. Here are the five best Coca-Cola 600 races.
5. 1993 Coca-Cola 600 (Dale Earnhardt’s Incredible Comeback)
The 1993 Coca-Cola 600 was historic for many reasons. It was the first Coca-Cola 600 to be held in the now traditional late afternoon into sundown into night. It was also the day of Dale Earnhardt’s most memorable comeback.
Earnhardt seemed to have the car to beat by leading 113 of the first 220 laps of the race. However, Earnhardt was caught speeding on pit road during a green flag pit cycle and held for 15 seconds. On lap 225, Rusty Wallace spun out to bring out the caution flag leaving Earnhardt one lap down.
Earnhardt would make up the one lap to work his way up to second by lap 328, far behind Dale Jarrett the new leader. Earnhardt would bring out a caution by spinning out the lapped car of Greg Sacks on lap 328. NASCAR determined that the wreck was intentional, and they held Earnhardt for another lap virtually taking him out of contention.
Earnhardt was still not done yet as he got his lap back on the ensuing restart and caught a quick caution on lap 351 for Wallace spinning out again. With few cars on the lead lap, Earnhardt took the lead back from Ernie Irvan on lap 362 and would go on to win by 3.7 seconds over Jeff Gordon.
4. 2011 Coca-Cola 600 (Fuel Mileage Fiasco)
The 2011 Coca-Cola 600 was a classic NASCAR endurance race. Comers and goers, attrition, and fuel mileage played a part in the final outcome.
Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne were battling for the lead in the closing laps with fuel mileage on everyone’s mind when Jimmie Johnson blew an engine with five laps to go setting up an overtime finish. Biffle was forced to pit under the caution flag leaving Kahne on the front row with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was then on a career long 104 race winless streak.
On the restart, Kahne ran out of gas giving Earnhardt Jr. the lead. On the final lap, Earnhardt Jr held a solid lead over Denny Hamlin, when Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas in turns three and four. Hamlin ran out of gas as well opening up the door for third place runner Kevin Harvick.
“The closer”, Kevin Harvick would take home the win after leading only his second lap of the day. This is not the only time that fuel mileage came into play during the Coca-Cola 600.
3. 2022 Coca-Cola 600 (Last Lap Pass)
The first Coca-Cola 600 for the next-gen cars did not disappoint. Another race with comers and goers and attrition thanks to 18 caution flags. It even featured a flip with Chris Buescher thankfully walking from his lap 347 crash.
The race came down to the final laps with Kyle Larson battling Chase Briscoe for the lead with two laps to go. Briscoe dove underneath Kyle Larson before Briscoe spun out bringing out the caution for the 17th time. On the ensuing restart, Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, and Denny Hamlin thought it was a good idea to go four-wide for the win off of turn four.
It went about as one would expect as a seven car crash sent the race to a second overtime. It was a battle between teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin with Hamlin just getting the better of Busch in turn two on the last lap. Hamlin would win the five hour, 13 minute, marathon.
2. 2007 Coca-Cola 600 (Fuel Mileage FIASCO)
Another classic Coca-Cola 600 saw the driver who led the most laps out by lap 300, and possibly the strangest top five in the races history. The race featured 13 caution flags, and came down to, you guessed it, fuel mileage.
Tony Stewart appeared to have the dominant car late in the race, but multiple mid-pack cars elected to gamble on fuel mileage. In the final 10 laps, big name drivers began pitting, with Stewart finally pitting with seven laps to go handing the lead to Denny Hamlin before he pitted giving Casey Mears the lead. .
Mears would tip-toe around the track to win the race by 9.5 seconds over this top five, and yes, this is the actual top five. J.J. Yeley finished second, Kyle Petty third, Reed Sorenson fourth and Brian Vickers fifth, with Ricky Rudd finishing seventh as well for his final career top 10.
1. 2005 Coca-Cola 600 (Jimmie Johnson Goes three in a Row)
Thanks to a bizarre racing surface at what was then known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the 2005 Coca-Cola 600 was the ultimate race of attrition. The race had a Cup Series record 22 caution flags for 103 laps (More than a quarter of the race).
The five hour, 13 minute affair came down to a five lap shootout between two future Hall of Famers in Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte. In the final corner of the last lap, Johnson moved to the outside of Labonte to nose ahead of Labonte by half a car length.
This was Johnson’s third consecutive Coca-Cola 600 victory, and his fourth of five consecutive victories at the track. No one dominated Charlotte at that time quite like Jimmie Johnson.
Could this weekend’s race add to this list? We shall see, and with the next-gen cars intermediate product, this race should be fun to watch.