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NASCAR’s Top 12 Moments at the Coca-Cola 600


12. 2000: Straight Outta Cambridge

With the passing of Dick Trickle, it’s hard to imagine not including fellow Wisconsin racing icon Matt Kenseth in this list. Charlotte always loves a first time winner, and Kenseth delivered in his rookie year of 2000. Kenseth passed Bobby Labonte  - who won his first race in this event five year earlier – with 26 laps to go, and held on to win. After taking the checkered flag, Kenseth paid homage to another home state hero Alan Kulwicki, with his famed Polish Victory Lap. Also of note, this is the first Coca-Cola 600 to have three Dales in the Top 5 – Earnhardt, Sr., Earnhardt, Jr., and Jarrett. 

By Vito Pugliese

11. 1961: Reds' Accident at World 600

Bruton Smith runs the show at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it was Curtis Turner who built it – with the help of some dubious financing and a .38 to keep the dozers going as race day in 1960 approached. In the days before HANS Devices, SAFER Barriers, and, well, helmets, drivers took their lives into their own hands. In the second running of the World 600, driver Reds Kagle impales his car on the guardrail and loses a leg. That is legendary broadcaster and motorsports journalist Chris Economacki narrating.

10. 1964: Fireball Roberts Fatal Crash

The 1964 running of the World 600 was a tragic one. Fan favorite and early superspeedway pioneer Glen “Fireball” Roberts – who earned his nickname by way of a fastball, not his driving – was involved in a crash with Ned Jarrett only seven laps into the event. Back then they didn’t have fuel cells, just regular stock gas tanks. Jarrett’s car was on fire, but he was able to escape. His friend Roberts, however, was not as fortunate. Roberts yelled for Jarrett to help him from his car. He would die a month later in a Daytona Beach, Fla., hospital following contracting pneumonia while recovering from burns suffered over 80 percent of his body. The accident would lead Junior Johnson to retire two years later as a driver, who said without Roberts, driving “just wasn’t fun anymore.”

9. 1974: Petty+Pearson x Yarborough = Classic

Fellow Grand Rapids, Mich., resident Bud Lindemann’s Car & Track Series chronicled the major NASCAR races of the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. Three drivers with a total of 388 wins and 13 titles between, it’s a battle of the best in racing history between Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Richard Petty. Things get interesting at the 4:40 mark when Pearson and Yarborough get together. Check out Cale’s classic comb over, and Bud’s era-appropriate cheesy quips and soaring music score. Here’s an idea: next time a race is rain delayed, just show these instead of 3 hours of interviews with guys trying to ham it up for the camera that aren’t funny. How about Bud’s “One To Grow On” lecture at the end – and that gorgeous butterfly collared shirt…

8. 1988: The Tire War Era

Some drivers, teams, and fans may moan about Goodyear and their tires’ effect on racing today, however many of those making noise didn’t have to live – and limp – through the tire wars. Indiana based Hoosier tires was pressing Goodyear for speed supremacy that year, which lead Goodyear to up the ante – and led to rash of tire failures during The Winston. During the 600, it was Hoosier who was suddenly knocking walls down. Ten cars exited the event due to crashes. Rick Wilson driving the No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet had a shot at winning go by the wayside when he blows a tire exiting Turn 2. Check out The Intimidator and Geoff Bodine in yet another on-track confrontation at the 1:00 mark. Earnhardt was parked for five laps for rough driving. DW and Rusty battle it out to the win, a scene that would play itself out a year later in The Winston, in dramatic fashion. 

7. 1993: Sacks Gets Sacked

Running in second place with 72 laps to go, and down 15 seconds to the leader, Dale Earnhardt runs up on the lap car of Greg Sacks. Earnhardt gives him the customary couple of laps to get out of the way, then as Jeremy Clarkson would say, goes right up his trumpet, sending Sacks spinning through the infield. NASCAR didn’t much care for the maneuver – assuming the spin was intentional to close a 15 second deficit to leader Dale Jarrett. NASCAR holds him a lap, which he in turn is able to make up shortly after the restart after Rusty walls it. Check out the dicing at the 6:20 mark as Earnhardt works his way back up through the field, and around the 9:30 mark – Gen 6 what? Whatever downforce and horsepower numbers they were making in 1993, mimic those today and NASCAR will have fixed their issues.

6. 1996: Next Week We’ll Work on Parallel Parking

Check out Mark Martin carving his way through what looks like the entire field in this clip from his in car from 1996. He’s on the brakes, the throttle, shifting, steering, and missing everything in sight. With more random wheel and gear change action than Vin Diesel has in the entire Fast & The Furious saga, Martin makes it through, Cole Trickle style up to a runner up finish behind eventual 1996 Winston Cup Champion Terry Labonte.

5. 2009: The Introduction of Billy Bad Butt

The 2009 Coca-Cola 600 was a two-day affair that would barely make it past halfway before NASCAR had to pull the plug on it. All the Air Titans in the world would not have helped, as the race started under sunny skies, but quickly turned dark and rain began to fall on and off for two days. While the record book will show that David Reutimann would win his first career race here, it would be a verbal confrontation between Tony Stewart and one of Reutimann’s crewmen that would propel one of them to instant stardom. 

4. 1995: The Class of 1993 Breaks Through

There are certain rookie classes in sports that go on to do unreal things. In the NFL, the class of 1983 featured Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Eric Dickerson, Willie Gault, and Darrell Green. Ten years later in NASCAR, the 1993 rookie class gave us Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Kenny Wallace, and Todd Bodine. Labonte was following in the footsteps of brother Terry, who had won the Winston Cup in 1984. Labonte was replacing Joe Gibbs Racing only driver they had ever had in Dale Jarrett, and was also trying to live up to the hype that fellow classmate Jeff Gordon had earned – and exceeded. The Coca Cola 600 loves a first time winner and Labonte delivered, starting on the outside of the front row, and leading the final 43 laps after Ken Schrader blew up. Pick it up at the 12:00 mark – full stands, Ernie Irvan on the mic, and TBS broadcasting the race. 

3. 2002: Martin’s Million Dollar Move

In 2002 it had been a span of 73 races since Mark Martin last won a race, and in 2001 it actually got him to thinking about doing something else. Entering the Coca-Cola 600, he had a shot at a million dollar bonus, but there was an obstacle in his way: his protégé, Matt Kenseth. Dogged over the final 30 laps, pick up the action at 2:33:30 as Martin slices and dices his way through lap traffic, dodging a spun out Mike Skinner with three laps to go, then going three wide into Turn One to gain some ground on his teammate, slaloming through more lap traffic en route to the win. Not sure what’s going on there in the grass afterwards. Mark Martin doing donuts after a win is like Barry Sanders spiking the rock after going 60 yards for a TD.

2. 2005: Johnson and Labonte Five Lap Fight

You can tell when things are about to get really crazy when Larry Mac goes up two octaves, and starts belting out “hah-sahds” and “sahd-bah-sahds” left and right. The race featured a record 22 cautions for an agonizing 103 laps as they had to repair a pot hole in Turn One, after somebody had the bright-assed idea to start screwing with the best track on the circuit. The beginning of the end of DEI as we know it was on display as well, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took out teammate Michael Waltrip – and then himself on the frontstretch, as Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson went off on a final five lap shootout. JJ finds a way to get it done – without making contact – for his third Coca Cola 600 win, and fourth win in five races at CMS. 

1. 1994: A Legend is Born

A year earlier, he looked like Todd from Beavis & Butthead, trading in a green Duster for a rainbow clad Lumina, with his perfectly coifed mullet, and impeccably trimmed creep ‘stache supreme. At the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR fans were witness to the birth of a brilliant career. Starting from the pole, Gordon would lead only the first lap, and would have to wait another 300 before seeing the lead again. In a race dominated by Rusty Wallace and Geoff Bodine, Jeff Gordon would take the lead with nine laps to go, using a quick pit stop and strategy to score what would be the first of 87 wins to date. Check out the now unflappable one as a babbling, sobbing ball of emotion. Hopefully Brooke didn’t get this car in the divorce.