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.
In its nearly sixty years of history, the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola has seen NASCAR’s best claim the checkered flag.
We count down the best performers in the history of this Independence Day weekend classic.
In terms of sheer numbers, no other driver can match David Pearson resume in the Coke Zero 400. He holds a record five event wins, stretching from 1961 to 1978. In what was the most dominant stretch of any driver in the history of the event, he won a record four times in the 1970’s including three consecutive years (1972-74), with his 1974 last-lap pass of Richard Petty remaining one of the event’s most exciting finishes.
In 17 career attempts, he’s posted staggering numbers with four wins, six top fives and eight top 10s. At the 2016 Coke Zero 400, Stewart will climb behind the wheel for his final appearance in the Independence Day Weekend Classic and attempt to make his was to Gatorade Victory Lane one more time in his last race at DAYTONA.
In addition to his seven DAYTONA 500 victories, Petty won the July race three times and was a central figure in the event’s signature moment – President Ronald Reagan’s visit in 1984, which saw Petty claims his 200th and final career victory.
In addition to his three Coke Zero 400 wins, Yarborough holds countless event records. His 1968 win was notable in that it made him the second driver to ever earn the Daytona Double – by sweeping the DAYTONA 500 and Coke Zero 400 in the same year. He also holds the record for most pole positions (eight), with three separate back-to-back streaks, and most career laps led (644).
Gordon makes the list with three wins, but just as impressive is the fact that he scored top ten finishes in over half of his Coke Zero 400’s. With 12 top tens and seven top fives in 23 races, Gordon was always a threat to win. In fact, he was nearly always in the mix until the very end as he completed all 400 miles a record 18 times.
Winner of the very first Coke Zero 400, Fireball Roberts put his stamp on the event from the outset. He scored three victories in the first five years of the race, becoming the first driver to win consecutive races (1962-63) and the first driver to win the Daytona Double – by sweeping the DAYTONA 500 and Coke Zero 400 in the same year (1962).
Allison dominated the 1980’s, racking up three victories in the event with three different race teams. His 1982 victory catapulted him on his way to a second-place finish in the overall series standings that year.
It’s hard to believe about the man that would become DAYTONA’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 points championship that same year. After that win, Earnhardt recorded top 10 finishes in nine of his final ten Coke Zero 400’s, including another victory in 1993.
"Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" captured the July Daytona race in 1988 and '91. Backed up by ten top tens, six top fives and a 1985 pole, Elliott was always in top form for summer racing at DAYTONA. His 1988 victory helped him he emerge to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr., in addition to his two Coke Zero 400 victories, brought fans one of the sport’s most memorable moments when he led 116 laps in the 160-lap race en route to his third career premier series win and his first at Daytona – the first race at the track since the passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Who did we miss on the list? What driver do you think is the best in Coke Zero 400 history? 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.