The Coca Cola 600 is one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events. It is also run on the same day as the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. Making it, what is commonly referred to, as the greatest day in Motorsports.
Let’s dive into the five best Coca-Cola 600s in NASCAR history.
2013 Coca-Cola 600: 11 caution flag madness
The 2013 Coca-Cola 600 is notable for many reasons. One of them is the 11 caution flags with a specific incident being an unprecedented and shocking yellow.
On Lap 122, the cable that held a FOX Sports television camera over the front stretch snapped and fell onto the track. Race leader Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose each saw significant damage as result and NASCAR essentially paused the race for 30 minutes.
Busch would eventually lose an engine alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. The No. 88 car dropped oil on the track which caused the second red flag of the event.
Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth would set the pace after Busch’s exit as they led a combined 273 laps of the 400-lap event. However, the third red flag of the race would pause their efforts after Aric Almirola caused a six-car wreck by making it three-wide.
The lead would change six times over the last 36 laps of the event. Drivers started to make pit stops on Lap 364 but Kahne would cycle back to the lead before the final caution on Lap 385 due to debris.
Everyone except Kahne pitted during the yellow flag and Kevin Harvick passed him on the restart. Harvick pulled away for his second Coca-Cola 600 victory in three years.
2017: Austin Dillon stuns late to win 1st Cup Series race
The 2017 Coca-Cola 600 is known for a few notable reasons, such as an early wreck during the event and a finish that would bring back memories of NASCAR’s golden age.
There were nine cautions during the event with the most notable being Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. The No. 24 car slowed significantly on the front stretch and Keselowski slammed into the back of it, ending their days.
Martin Truex Jr. led 233 laps of the 400-lap race which was by far the most over the course of the event. The race would also be delayed by nearly two hours due to lightning and a downpour of rain.
Truex would be the dominant car during the race until green-flag pit stops began with 33 laps to go. Jimmie Johnson and six other drivers would try their shot with fuel-saving while Truex and Kyle Busch stormed through the field with fresh tires.
Johnson was in prime position to win the race and hold off the charging fresh tires, but he ran out of fuel with two laps to go and Austin Dillon inherited the lead.
Dillon would save enough fuel and hold off the hard-charging drivers behind him for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory and the first win for the No. 3 car since Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won Talladega in 2000.
2011: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. faulters late
The 2011 Coca-Cola 600 is known for its 14 cautions and green-white-checkered finish that stole the hopes of one driver and many race fans.
Greg Biffle led 103 laps during the 402-lap race which ended up being the most over the course of the event. It was another race that didn’t see complete domination.
The first 350 laps of the race were full of cautions and lead changes. The longest green flag run was 75 laps to start the event. The race didn’t go more than 50 laps during green-flag conditions after the Lap 171 caution.
Biffle took the lead at Lap 350 after passing Jeff Gordon and looked to control the race. The driver of the No. 16 car led until Jimmie Johnson lost an engine with four laps to go.
This caused drivers to come down pit road as the race would go longer than the scheduled distance. Biffle and others would pit while Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. would try to stretch it on fuel.
Earnhardt would take the lead on the restart and hit the white flag. However, as he entered Turn 4, Earnhardt ran out of fuel before being passed by Kevin Harvick for the victory on the last lap.
The top-five finishers only led 17 total laps as it showed how the race flipped with the caution. Earnhardt would never go on to win the Coca-Cola 600 despite his efforts.
2007: The greatest fuel-saving race in NASCAR history
One of the greatest Coca-Cola 600s also tends to be one of the greatest fuel-saving races in NASCAR history. It was a wild event that saw 13 cautions and 29 lead changes among 15 drivers.
The most notable caution flew when Jeff Gordon was turned on the front stretch and went back up the track into the wall. Gordon caught some air but the car stayed upright and did not flip.
Kurt Busch led 107 laps during the 400-lap race which was the most before his eventual crash on Lap 186. After Busch’s wreck, no driver would lead more than 30 consecutive laps until Tony Stewart took the lead on Lap 339.
Stewart would control the race until he needed to pit with eight laps to go due to fuel. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin came in the following laps after inheriting the lead.
However, Casey Mears played the fuel-saving game along with the next three finishes that combined for seven laps led. Mears saved enough fuel and came home with his first and only NASCAR Cup Series victory. It is arguably one of the greatest fuel-saving races in NASCAR history as said above.
2005: Johnson and Labonte’s legendary battle to the finish
The most historic Coca-Cola 600 occurred in 2005 with a plethora of events occurring during the race. This race also set the benchmark that all other events now chase in terms of cautions.
There was a record 22 cautions during the event. A record that still holds its place in NASCAR history almost 17 years to the date. It was a wild race that saw only 30 of the 43 entries finish.
Brian Vickers led 98 laps during the race, which turned out to be the most during the 400-lap event. However, Vickers was involved in a wreck on Lap 380 with four other drivers and the most notable being Jeff Gordon.
There was also a red flag due to an accident involving Joe Nemechek and Scott Wimmer. This would be the final caution of the event.
On the final restart of the race with five laps to go, Jimmie Johnson restarted in fourth place before moving to second place with four laps to go. It set up for a classic battle with Bobby Labonte. Johnson tried to find a way around Labonte before getting to his outside on the final turn of the race.
Johnson passed Labonte and won by a small margin of 0.027 seconds which is the closest finish in an official event during the track’s NASCAR history. This also marked Johnson’s third straight Coca-Cola 600 as he became the first driver to accomplish this feat.