The Coca-Cola 600 (formerly World 600) is a six hundred mile (966 km) stock car race held annually at Lowe's Motor Speedway (formerly Charlotte Motor Speedway) in Charlotte, North Carolina on Memorial Day weekend. It is the longest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and in fact is the longest regularly-scheduled automobile race conducted on an oval track anywhere in the world, and just 21 miles shorter than major sportscar endurance 1,000 kilometer races.
The event was begun as an attempt by NASCAR to stage a Memorial Day weekend event that would rival the open-wheel Indianapolis 500 in fan interest and it has succeeded to some degree, gaining larger TV ratings than the Indianapolis race from 2002-2004. It was not until 1974, however, that both races competed head-to-head on the same day. Prior to 1974, the two races were held on different days of the week, and on a few occasions, some drivers drove in both; this continued even after the 600 was moved to the same day, albeit to a smaller degree.
With the installation of lights in 1992, fans complained to circuit management because of the notorious North Carolina heat and humidity, and the forced early starts to beat sunset, they wanted to follow The Winston's popularity the previous week and switch the race to a nighttime finish to create cooler temperatures for spectators. The start time was moved back several times throughout the 1990s, but finally settled at 5:30PM in 2001, in order to have the race finish by 10 p.m. ET, to allow the race to precede local news on Fox affiliates.
The nighttime portion of the race lit with a system that uses parabolic reflectors so that dangerous glare that would otherwise be in the drivers' eyes is minimized. The move of the race to the early evening made it possible for drivers to participate in both the 600 and the Indianapolis 500 by flying from Indianapolis to Charlotte as soon as the Indianapolis race was over. Experts disagree over whether, for health and safety reasons, anyone should be allowed to race 1100 miles in one day, but no regulation has been passed yet by any governing body to prevent it. Beginning with the 2005 races, the issue became moot as the start time for the Indianapolis 500 was moved back one hour to in an effort to gain higher TV ratings. This resulted in only about a one hour span between the end of the Indianapolis race and the start of the Charlotte race.
See also: List of current NASCAR races
On Sunday, May 29, 2005, a new record for the most cautions of any NASCAR race was set at 22 cautions. In addition, there was one red flag. During that race Jimmie Johnson slid past Bobby Labonte in turn four on the final lap, claiming the checkered flag. In doing so he became the first driver to win 3 consecutive Coca-Cola 600 races. He would finish a distant second to Kasey Kahne the following year.