While perhaps not as inherently unpredictable as a restrictor-plate race, the Coca-Cola 600 nonetheless has a legitimate wild-card reputation. Six times since its 1960 inception, the 600 has provided a driver with his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
On the other hand, the race is seldom won by people you could call longshots, at least not in hindsight. More often than not, big names prevail, although there have been several times with those names just weren’t big yet.
Of those six breakthrough wins mentioned, four were by drivers who would go on to win NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. Here’s that complete short list:
· 1961: David Pearson (He turned out to be fairly good, winning three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.)
· 1994: Jeff Gordon (Went on to win four championships.)
· 1995: Bobby Labonte (The 2000 champion.)
· 2000: Matt Kenseth (The 2003 champion.)
· 2007: Casey Mears (Wild-card factor; only career win.)
· 2009: David Reutimann (Wild-card, part II, one of two career wins.)
Overall in the 54-year history of the Coca-Cola 600, series champions – past present or future – have won 28 times. And of the 26 times “non-champions” who have won, we’re still looking at a stellar lineup that includes many of NASCAR’s all-time greats such as Fred Lorenzen, Jim Paschal, Marvin Panch, Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Davey Allison and Mark Martin.
This year, there are other breakthroughs to focus on; a number of notable drivers, including past champions like Kenseth (No. 20 HOME DEPOT HUSKY Toyota) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet) who have yet to win a race this season, delaying almost-certain berths in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s championship “playoffs” contested over the season’s last 10 races.
There also are drivers to watch looking not only for their first victory of the season in the series but their first victory, period. Drivers like rookies Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) and Austin Dillon (No. 3 Cheerios Chevrolet) … Danica Patrick (No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet) … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Fastenal Ford).
The bottom line here is that NASCAR’s longest race has a long history that will take you in a variety of directions. Expect just about anything, and there will be no surprises.