Thanks to two overtimes, the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 became the Coca-Cola 619.5, officially the longest race per mile in NASCAR Cup history.
The three longest Cup races per mile in NASCAR history have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The field for the 1952 Southern 500 produced the longest race in the sport’s history, 6 hours and 42 minutes.
As drivers and teams prepare for this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, they’re working in the knowledge that it’s the longest race of the year.
They are also preparing in the shadow of last year’s Coke 600, which was not only the longest race of the year, but the longest race of ANY year.
Thanks to two overtimes, the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 became the Coca-Cola 619.5, officially the longest race per mile in NASCAR Cup history. Denny Hamlin took the delayed black and white checkered flag in five hours and 13 minutes. Remarkably, after so much time and so many laps (413 instead of the planned 400), Hamlin won the race with a pass from Kyle Busch on the last lap.
The day (and night) brought back memories of some early NASCAR marathon races. It was almost as if the late Chicago Cubs infielder Ernie Banks, famous for his enthusiastic “Let’s play two!” expression, had stepped forward to encourage drivers to race to infinity.
The three longest Cup races per mile in NASCAR history have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All were scheduled for 600 miles, but NASCAR’s relatively new green-and-white-checkered overtime rules piled on more mileage.
Longest Cup Series races by distance
Charlotte, May 29, 2022, won by Denny Hamlin, planned distance – 600 miles, actual distance – 619.5 miles
Charlotte, May 24, 2020, won by Brad Keselowski, planned distance – 600 miles, actual distance – 607.5 miles
Charlotte, May 29, 2011, won by Kevin Harvick, planned distance – 600 miles, actual distance – 603 miles
Longest Cup Series races in time
Darlington, September 1, 1952, won by Fonty Flock, distance – 546.4 miles, time – 6 hours, 42 minutes
Darlington, September 4, 1950, won by Johnny Mantz, distance – 546.4 miles, time – 6:38
Darlington, September 3, 1951, won by Herb Thomas, distance – 546.4 miles, time – 6:30
The three longest Cup races by the clock were held at the then-new Darlington Raceway. As NASCAR’s first superspeedway, the track was viewed as the stock car version of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so it was appropriate for the series to attempt a 500-mile race like IMS.
The first Southern 500, held on September 4, 1950, featured a 75-car grid and lasted a whopping 6 hours and 38 seconds. The field for the 1952 500 was unbeatable, producing the longest race in the sport’s history, 6 hours and 42 minutes. Fonty Flock won and promptly retired due to exhaustion with the sport. No not really.
While it is very unlikely that future Cup races will last more than six hours, the dynamics of the current competition make it very possible that Sunday’s Coke 600 (and future 600s) could set records for race distance.
If the competition is close by the end of regulation, a late race warning could push the race over 600 miles, and bumping and banging during the first overtime could extend the race again. And so on and so on.
For a sport that leans towards shorter races, both to satisfy today’s attention spans and the wishes of the television network, the 600 has become something of an anachronism. When it gets to the 619.5, the differences between the race and any other pursuit on Sunday become even greater.
Last year’s 600 (sorry, 619.5) was considerably competitive despite the length of the race. There were four different leaders – Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Chase Briscoe and Hamlin – over the last 18 laps before Hamlin passed the final lap to win.
The race was interrupted by 18 caution flags and 16 cars dropped out of the competition.
The history of the Coca-Cola 600 (originally known as the World 600) includes more than a few races in which drivers raced around the track in potentially winning cars with no real regard for their positioning until the final 50 laps of the race. Then the real competition began. In 28 600s, the driver who led the race over 500 miles has not won.
Aware of this attention-grabbing situation, track officials once offered large bonus money to the leader at 100-mile race intervals, hopefully improving race-long competition. Hall of Fame driver David Pearson, four-time winner at Charlotte, somewhat dampened that approach by repeatedly racing in the middle of the pack, but accelerating forward to collect the bonus money and then fading back into safer territory.
Stage races – stages finish Sunday at 100, 200 and 300 laps – has changed that dynamic to some extent, as top-10 runs in completing stages earn points for the end-of-season playoffs, making it risky to stay out of the top 10. .
Still, the length of the race sometimes contributes to relatively comfortable wins. Hamlin’s last-lap pass of Kyle Busch to win last year’s race is the only last-lap win of the 600 in the past six years. In two of those races, the winning passes were made with 46 and 49 laps to go.
Will Sunday’s race be another marathon-plus, or just a marathon?