The first summer race at Daytona International Speedway was called the Firecracker 250 – the forerunner of the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola – and held on July 4, 1959. The race ran its scheduled 250 miles with no caution flags. Daytona Beach native Fireball Roberts won in dominating fashion, leading 84 of 100 laps and beating runner-up Joe Weatherly by 57 seconds.
Moving decade-by-decade, we take a look at the other 56 years of Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola history.
It’s hard to believe about the man that would become Daytona International Speedway's winningest driver, but prior to his 1990 Coke Zero 400 victory, Dale Earnhardt had never won a points race at Daytona. He finally broke through, though, and went on to win his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points championship that same year. After that victory, Earnhardt recorded top-10 finishes in nine of his final 10 Coke Zero 400s, including another victory in 1993.
After DAYTONA 500 victories in 1985 and '87 and a '88 Coke Zero 400 triumph, Bill Elliott recorded his final victory at DAYTONA in the 1991 Coke Zero 400. He raced 31 more times at DAYTONA, but never again went to Gatorade Victory Lane.
Ernie Irvan, driving the Kodak Chevrolet Lumina for Morgan-McClure Racing, came home victorious in 1992, leading 117 of 160 laps. With only two caution flags during the race, Irvan averaged a blistering 170.457 mph.
In 1993, Dale Earnhardt won his second Coke Zero 400 of the decade, holding off a late race challenge by Ken Schrader, who finished third. Sterling Marlin placed second and Ricky Rudd finished fourth
The following year, Jimmy Spencer edged Ernie Irvan by .008 seconds. At the time, it was the fifth-closest finish in NASCAR history since the advent of electronic scoring. It was the only lap Spencer led in the race, and served as his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
Jeff Gordon captured his first points-paying victory at DISin the 1995 Coke Zero 400 becoming the youngest winner in the event’s history at 23. Current crew chief of the Hendrick Motorsports Lowe’s No. 48 Chad Kanus worked as a tire changer on Gordon’s crew.
1997 saw Cale Yarborough return to Gatorade Victory Lane in this event for the first time since 1981. John Andretti, nephew of legendary racer Mario Andretti, got his first career Sprint Cup win and what turned out to be the only Sprint Cup victory for Yarborough as a car owner.
Jeff Gordon stamped himself into the record book for the 1990s with another victory in 1998. Originally scheduled to be held on July 4, the race was postponed until October due to widespread wildfires in central Florida. Gordon won the first Sprint Cup Series race ever run under the lights at the world-famous facility.
Most Victories of the Decade
2 (’90, ’93) – Dale Earnhardt
2 (’95, ’98) – Jeff Gordon
What was your favorite Coke Zero 400 moment during the 1990s? Let us know by leaving us a comment below! Be a part of the next chapter of history by attending the 2016 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola -- the first in the new motorsports stadium. Tickets are going fast! Buy now or call 1-800-PITSHOP for tickets and information.