The Crown Jewels of NASCAR are different from the other races on the schedule. Since NASCAR has its own playoff system, drivers place more emphasis on winning a Crown Jewel race than other races. But this can leave new fans wondering what NASCAR’s Crown Jewel races are.
NASCAR’s Crown Jewel Races are the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and Coca Cola 600. Before its discontinuation, the Brickyard 400 made up the fourth Crown Jewel. The Winston 500 was also considered a Crown Jewel at one time. Jeff Gordon holds the record for the most Crown Jewel wins.
If you are interested in learning what makes the Crown Jewel Races so special, keep reading. In the article below, we’ll discuss each Crown Jewel race’s history, their prominence, and we will even touch on prominent drivers who secured multiple Crown Jewel wins throughout their careers.
The Crown Jewel Races in NASCAR are three of the most famous races in the sport: The Daytona 500, the Southern 500, and the Coca Cola 600. There have been other races included as Crown Jewels in the past. Winning a Crown Jewel race is a great accomplishment for any NASCAR driver.
When you watch professional sports, there are games each season that routinely draw better ratings and media coverage. In the NFL, the Thursday Night Kickoff Game and the NFL on Thanksgiving are their equivalent of NASCAR’s Crown Jewels. The NHL’s equivalents would be the Winter Classic and the Heritage Classic. In the MLB, the Field of Dreams Game is drawing a Crown Jewel type of status.
Whether your peer network is full of NASCAR fans or not, if they have heard of a particular race on the circuit, it’s probably safe to bet it was one of NASCAR’s Crown Jewel Races. You probably don’t follow all the sports leagues listed above. But you likely recognized most of the events listed.
If you or your friend network are NASCAR fans, but you don’t have time to sit and watch all the races, you may carve out time to watch the illustrious Crown Jewel events. In 2020, NASCAR’s official website defined the Crown Jewel events as the Daytona 500, Coca Cola 600, Southern 500, and Brickyard 400.
Almost everyone, NASCAR fan or not, knows about the Daytona 500. Its inaugural event occurred in 1959, but the race traces its roots back to when NASCAR started a decade prior, when they held races at the Daytona Beach Road Course. Sometimes dubbed as the “Super Bowl of NASCAR,” it’s the first points race of the year as a 500-mile event on the 2.5-mile asphalt surface.
Richard Petty won the Daytona 500 more than any other driver, notching seven victories between 1964 and 1981. And while he is arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history and holds the most wins, some obscure drivers like Michael McDowell, Trevor Bayne, and Derrike Cope also won the 500.
They call Darlington Raceway the “Track Too Tough to Tame” because of its egg-shape and the “Lady in Black,” a nod to its black asphalt surface. And because the inaugural event occurred in 1950, they also call the Southern 500 NASCAR’s “Oldest Superspeedway Race.”
The race gained more prominence since it started taking place later in the season and opens the NASCAR Playoffs, which often occurs on or around Labor Day Weekend. Drivers have 367 laps and 501 miles to try and tame the track, and many prominent drivers have won the event.
The Southern 500 also became famous for hosting NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, which started in 2015. However, you will sometimes see Throwback Weekend occur during the 400-mile spring race. A few multiple winners include Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarbrough, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, and Dale Earnhardt.
Tracing its roots to 1960, the Coca Cola 600 is the longest race on the NASCAR schedule. It’s unique in that it traditionally starts off in the late afternoon and ends well after the sun has set. This causes track conditions to change as the surface steadily cools throughout each stage of the race.
Traditionally held at the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day Weekend, the race occurs on the same day as another famous event, The Indianapolis 500, which is one of IndyCar’s most famous races. Some drivers, like Tony Stewart, have competed in both on the same day.
Darrell Waltrip became the first driver to win the event five times, notching his fifth and final Coca Cola 600 win in 1989. In 2007, Casey Mears won the race for his first NASCAR Cup Series win and David Reutimann accomplished the same feat two seasons later.
Unlike the other Crown Jewel events, the Brickyard 400 did not begin until 1994. However, it quickly became one of NASCAR’s most popular and most attended races, often drawing over a quarter-million spectators annually.
Jeff Gordon won the first running of the race, and he was also the first to score five wins in the event while longtime teammate Jimmie Johnson won the Brickyard four times. Unfortunately, one of those wins occurred during the infamous 2008 race when the Car of Tomorrow was first used and most of the race was run under cautions.
The 2008 event marked the beginning of the end for the Brickyard 400. And by 2016, the race averaged fewer than 50,000 spectators. Following the 2020 event, NASCAR discontinued the race, instead opting for the track’s road course.
The Crown Jewel Races still matter, but perhaps not as much as they once did. Winning the Daytona 500, for example, is much more significant than winning other races on the schedule. With the introduction of the playoffs, however, individual races aren’t as important as they once were.
When you look at other sports, you may see the prestige their biggest events bring. The Super Bowl is bigger than ever in the 21st century. So much so that companies are willing to spend millions for a 30-second television ad.
The NFL on Thanksgiving, NBA on Christmas, and the NHL’s Classics have each expanded to include more games, and they continue to draw in the ratings. Given the success of the MLB’s Field of Dreams, you can expect them to make annual trips to Dyersville, Iowa.
With the largest events in North American Sports growing throughout the 21st century, have the Crown Jewel Races done the same? Or will they be slated to meet the same fate as the Brickyard 400?
As mentioned earlier, the Coca Cola 600’s event coincides with the Indianapolis 500. However, you may not know that the Memorial Day Weekend event is part of a Triple Header, with Formula One’s Grand Prix in Monaco. Many auto racing fans will tune into all three events.
The 600-mile race also serves as NASCAR’s version of endurance racing.Given the changing track conditions, NASCAR teams must strategize more than usual, and that’s saying a lot. You can arguably consider the event NASCAR’s most physically mentally demanding race.
Further, the 600 also serves as the “home race” for NASCAR teams, since most of them set up headquarters near the track. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is also located in Charlotte. And for many drivers, the 600 has become a family event given the track’s proximity to their homes.
With its odd turning degrees, few tracks are more taxing on a NASCAR car than the Darlington Raceway. Most NASCAR drivers practice at Darlington more than anywhere else on the NASCAR circuit, even more than they practice on those difficult road courses.
While drivers must maintain superhuman concentration skills throughout any event, perhaps no other venue demands such concentration more than Darlington’s 500-mile event. With a win at Daytona, a driver is closer to becoming a legend in the sport. But to win at Darlington, a driver has proved that they mastered NASCAR’s arguably toughest track.
While fans had numerous issues with the Brickyard 400 that included visibility problems, hot and humid weather, and less-than-ideal track conditions. But NASCAR didn’t bother to officially replace the race with another Crown Jewel in 2021. They kicked it to the curb and settled for three Crown Jewels.
So why are the Crown Jewel events paling a bit in popularity? Because NASCAR now has a playoff system, and for the Cup Series’ top sixteen drivers, winning the playoff races mean so much more than winning the Daytona 500 or the Coca Cola 600.
At least the Southern 500 is part of the playoff. However, given its position on the NASCAR schedule, it’s equivalent to the Conference Quarter Finals in the NHL and NBA, or the Wild Card Playoffs in the NFL. There are more important races on the schedule drivers need to win.
Before the Brickyard 400, the Winston 500 was the fourth Crown Jewel, held at Talladega. Some still consider the spring Talladega race a Crown Jewel event. However, NASCAR’s official website does not consider the race a Crown Jewel.
With the absence of the Brickyard 400, assuming it does not return, will there be another Crown Jewel event? Of course, the Talladega spring race could regain the moniker in NASCAR’s eyes. But some have pointed to the Bristol night race, given the track’s popularity.
The series championship event at the Phoenix Raceway would be another potential Crown Jewel event, since it decides who will win the NASCAR Cup on any given season. The final race of the season has also switched often, though, so it’s even appropriate to argue that the championship race, regardless of the venue, could become NASCAR’s next Crown Jewel.
Jeff Gordon has the most Crown Jewel wins in NASCAR, with 17. Gordon dominated all four Crown Jewels during his 25-year career, taking three Daytona 500s and Coca Cola 600s. He won the Southern 500 six times and the Brickyard 400 five times. He is also third in all-time victories.
Jimmie Johnson has 12 Crown Jewel victories, good enough for second all time. Richard Petty is often regarded as the greatest NASCAR driver in history. He won seven championships and 200 races in a 35-year career. Petty won the Daytona 500 seven times, but he had just two Coca Cola 600 wins and one Southern 500 win, giving him 10 Crown Jewel victories.
Dale Earnhardt, like Johnson and Petty, won seven championships. But the Daytona 500 eluded him until 1998. Earnhardt dominated the Coca Cola 600 and Southern 500, winning three apiece. He also added a Brickyard 400 win, giving him eight Crown Jewels.
David Pearson started 574 NASCAR Cup races between 1960 and 1986, logging 105 wins in that span. However, he won the Daytona 500 just once, while celebrating three Coca Cola 600 and Southern 500 victories apiece.
Darrell Waltrip notched 84 wins over 29 seasons. In fact, the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s last win came at the 1992 Southern 500. It was Waltrip’s only Southern 500 win. He also won the Daytona 500 just once. But he was stellar in Charlotte, taking five wins.
Cale Yarborough won three championships and 83 races between 1957 and 1985. However, he only won at two Crown Jewel tracks. Yarborough made the most of it, though, with four wins at the Daytona 500 and five at the Southern 500.
Bobby Allison won 84 races across 718 starts. And 10 of those wins were Crown Jewel wins, with three at Daytona, three at Charlotte, and four at Darlington. Even more impressive is the fact that Allison, for a while, won races driving for his own, often low-budget team.
The NASCAR Crown Jewel races are the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and Coca Cola 600. They traditionally occur on prominent dates and remain among the most popular races in NASCAR. With the introduction of the playoffs, however, individual track wins aren’t as important as they have been in the past.