Race has rich history of providing career milestones As far as tradition goes, NASCAR's longest race is also one of its most legendary. The Coca-Cola 600, set for Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway, has been the scene of many milestones for...
Race has rich history of providing career milestones
As far as tradition goes, NASCAR's longest race is also one of its most legendary.
The Coca-Cola 600, set for Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway, has been the scene of many milestones for various drivers since the race's inception in 1960. That list is somewhat surprising, since the race isn't exactly your average stock car event. At 600 miles, it is the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' form of an endurance race. It typically takes more than four hours to complete.
That said, consider these accomplishments that seem especially impressive considering the challenges presented by the Coca-Cola 600:
In 2000, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) got his first premier series victory in the Coca-Cola 600, and went on to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. "[The Coca-Cola 600] is my favorite event of the year by far," Kenseth said. "I love that race. That's right on the top of my list every year."
In 1995, Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), in his third full season, broke through for his first premier series win. Said Labonte: "We won two more [races] in about an eight-week span after that, so I think we needed something to break the ice and that did it for us."
In 1994, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), in only his second full season, made the 600-miler his first victory. "I never would have guessed 10 years ago that I'd be where I am now," said Gordon, a four-time premier series champion. "Sometimes it still amazes me that I made it to this level at all."
1976, an aspiring short-track racer named Dale Earnhardt made his debut in NASCAR's premier series, in what was then called the World 600. He started 31st, and finished 25th.
And in the 1961 World 600, David Pearson got his first premier series victory, his first of 105, the second-best total all-time (behind Richard Petty's 200).
Those five drivers, incidentally, all can be found on the list of series champions, starting with reigning titlist Kenseth, who comes into Sunday's race riding the confidence resulting from a victory last Saturday night in the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, also at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"The one I'd want to win, if I could win one race a year, would be the 600," Kenseth said, "so I have a lot of confidence coming in with how our stuff ran [in the all-star event]. But we'll have to bring it back and try to do it again for 600 miles."
Kenseth embraces the tests posed by the event, saying, "You make a million pit stops and you get to adjust on your car all night long. It's just a really fun event for me to try to figure out what the track is going to be like in the beginning and what you have to give up in the beginning of the race to be good at the end. It's fun to figure that out and try to wrestle the car and get frustrated with it, but then be happy with it at the end because the track changed for you."