For the second year in a row, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 represents the “last-chance” race for drivers sitting in the lower half of the standings to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. In addition, it’s the second time the race has been the final regular-season event on the schedule, with all drivers outside the top 16 in the rankings going all-out to gain their first season win and hopefully move on to the playoffs.
The event was historically run on the July 4th weekend since its inception at the Daytona International Speedway in 1959. However, it was moved to late August in 2020 and is now the Cup Series final race before the playoffs.
The Daytona National Speedway holds more than 100,000 fans and is usually sold out for the season’s last race. The previous Coke Zero Sugar 400 only drew about 20,000 spectators due to the pandemic, as NASCAR officials reached the goal of having the venue at a minimum 20% capacity for the race, which included fans that watched the action from the infield.
Event Has a Long History At Daytona
The race debuted as the Firecracker 250 in 1959 and then as the Pepsi 400 from 1984 until 2007. In 2008, Coca-Cola signed a multi-year deal with the International Speedway Corporation to sponsor the race and be the exclusive supplier of beverages at all ISC tracks.
As a result, this became the first NASCAR race at Daytona to run under the lights in 1998. The event is the second-biggest race held at the racetrack during the Cup Series, the first being the Daytona 500, which is held in February.
Only one driver has won both NASCAR Cup races at Daytona in the same season. Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson won both the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 in 2013, driving the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevy.
Johnson started in 690 races in NASCAR and finished his career with 83 victories, which is fifth all-time in history but not even close to the 200 victories won by The King, Richard Petty, during his career. Johnson’s NASCAR career spanned from 2002 to 2020, and his seven series championships tie him with Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in NASCAR history.
Playoffs Still a Reality For Most Drivers
Many drivers have gotten their first career victory at the Coke Zero 400. Any driver that can accomplish that in 2022 will likely be among the field of 16 for the start of the playoffs at Darlington Raceway on September 4 for the CookOut Southern 400.
Fireball Roberts won his first career victory in the inaugural race in 1959 and went on to win it twice more in 1962 and 1963. Roberts’ two-race win streak was disrupted by NASCAR legend A.J. Foyt, who got his first career victory at the event in 1964 and repeated as the winner in 1965.
There are just 16 playoff spots available, and no matter how many drivers win a race this season, a couple could miss the postseason. Unfortunately, there is no situation where the “win and in” concept, which is often wrongly associated with drivers making the playoffs, would be in effect in any NASCAR season. Generally, multi-race winners and the regular season points champion are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, with the Cup Standings determining which of those winners qualify and which don’t.
The Coke Zero Sugar 400 has now become the culminating event in which all drivers and teams are motivated to push as hard as they can to get a victory in the last race of the regular season. With a chance at making the playoffs, fans can be guaranteed to see some of the best action of the season from the field of drivers, where many will be participating in their last event of the Cup Series in 2022.
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