DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 24, 2008) – John Andretii will remember his victory in the 1997 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola as his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
History will also remember it as the last daytime running of the Independence Day holiday classic.
A late caution came out in the 160-lap race, 400-mile race and Andretti was in the lead with less than five laps remaining. Instead of taking the checkered flag under caution, the track was cleared in time for the field to get the green flag and the white flag.
Said Andretti: “Tony Furr, my crew chief at the time, he said, ‘You’re going to get what you want John. They are going to throw the green and the white.’ I was like, ‘I don’t remember asking for that.’ ”
Andretti managed to hold off a trio of Daytona 500 champions in Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Sterling Marlin among others on that final lap.
“People ask you who you don’t want on your bumper,” Andretti said. “Everybody thinks about the black No. 3 (Earnhardt) and he was back there. They throw the green and fortunately enough we did all the right things.
“Dale Jarrett helped by jumping to the inside of Dale Earnhardt and at that point I thought it was over. For me, all I had to do was make sure not to miss a gear. As I look back now, I’m really happy they threw the green because so many people would have said they would have beat you.”
Besides having the distinction of being the final daytime winner of the Coke Zero 400, Andretti was able to follow his Uncle Mario’s footsteps as a Daytona winner. Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500.
The victory was not only the first for Andretti, but it was also the first as a car owner for NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough, who is a three-time Daytona 500 champion and winner of 83 NASCAR races.
Andretti’s victory didn’t come as a total surprise. He had shown plenty of strength at the restrictor-plate tracks throughout 1997. He was competitive in the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished third and fourth in the restrictor-plate races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
But on the sunny day in July at Daytona, Andretti’s car flexed its muscles just enough to claim victory.
“We had a good car,” Andretti said. “We felt like we should’ve won the Daytona 500 that year. We almost won both Talladegas. At Daytona, I got help. Bill Elliott pushed me on by to get the lead. At the Daytona 500, we had a really fast car and cut a tire.”
Tickets to the Coke Zero 400 Weekend Powered By Coca-Cola are available online at www.racetickets.com
or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.