Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5 (Plus 1): First-Time Winners in NASCAR’s Longest Race

  1. David Pearson, 1961

Pearson was the first of six drivers to take home his first trophy in NASCAR’s longest race, winning in 1961. Pearson would also become the first of four first-time winners in the 600-miler to go on to win Cup titles, and he’s the winningest driver in this group, visiting Victory lane another 104 times after his breakthrough victory. He was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011. The induction ceremony recapping his remarkable career is shown.

  1. Jeff Gordon (1994)

Gordon became the second driver to win the Coca-Cola 600 (and will certainly become the second Hall of Famer to boast of his first win in the marathon race). He won by stepping to the front of the field with 16 laps to go in his rainbow-colored Chevrolet, but what most fans remember is Gordon’s emotional Victory Lane interview, a glimpse of just what winning at NASCAR’s top level meant to the young driver. He has since cemented Gordon’s place in NASCAR history with a total of 93 wins, and while he’s left the teary-eyed kid in Victory Lane behind, his passion for the sport has never been far from the surface.

  1. Bobby Labonte (1995)

One year after Jeff Gordon got his name etched on a trophy for the first time, his one-time Rookie of the Year rival repeated the feat.  Labonte also kept the streak of champions intact, winning the 2000 title. Labonte also became the first driver to win a Cup title along with his older brother, something that’s only been accomplished one other time.

  1. Matt Kenseth (2000)

A week after fellow Cup rookie Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the All-Star Race, Kenseth showed that he could also drive a car all the way to Victory Lane. The 2003 series champion has quietly built himself a Hall of Fame-worthy career after getting his start in Charlotte.

  1.  Casey Mears (2007)

Mears may have been an unlikely winner, but he was in the best position to capitalize on late-race strategy, and rode it straight to Victory Lane. Like Gordon’s, Mears’ celebration is perhaps more compelling than the race itself, with the young driver clearly emotional after cementing his place in the history books and keeping up a family tradition. The win stands as Mears’ only one to date, but he made the most of the moment.

  1. David Reutimann (2009)

Like they had for Mears, circumstances played into Reutimann’s hands, which in no way lessens the driver’s accomplishment. He won the race because he was in the best position to capitalize on the circumstances that were given to the entire field. Reutimann got his second and final career victory the following year at Chicago, but the first one came in Charlotte on a rainy Monday.


About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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