The Coca-Cola 600, originally the World 600, is an annual 600-mile (970 km) NASCAR Cup Series points race held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, on a Sunday during Memorial Day weekend. The first race, held in 1960, was also the first one held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It is the longest race on NASCAR's schedule at 600 miles (970 km). It is unique for having track conditions that change throughout the race due to the race having a day to night transition, (if the race occurs on schedule with no delays or postponements). The race starts around 6:20 p.m. when the track is bathed in sunlight for about the first third of the race. Roughly the second third happens at dusk, and about the final third of the race occurs at night under the lights.
With two weeks remaining until the inaugural race, the paving subcontractor threatened to quit the job due to lack of payment. To keep him there, Turner and one of his friends threatened the subcontractor with a shotgun and a revolver to ensure the track's backstretch would be completed. The first event at the newly completed Charlotte Motor Speedway was held on June 19, 1960.
From 1960 to 1984 the race was known as the World 600. In 1985, the race's name was changed to Coca-Cola World 600. In 1986 the name was shortened to the Coca-Cola 600, or Coke 600 which it was referred to at the time. The name changed again in 2002 to the Coca-Cola Racing Family 600 referring to the Coca-Cola family of drivers who are sponsored by Coca-Cola. In 2003, the name returned to the Coca-Cola 600.
After the installation of lights in 1992, fans asked circuit management to start the race later in the day because of the notorious North Carolina heat and humidity. 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 and finally settled at 5:30 pm in 2001, to attempt to have the race finished by 10 pm ET, in time for local news on Fox affiliates.
The nighttime portion of the race is 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 do Double Duty – run the Indianapolis 500, then immediately fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, and participate in the Coca-Cola 600. Experts disagreed over whether, for health and safety reasons, anyone should be allowed to race 1100 miles in one day, but no regulation has been set by any governing body to prevent it. From 2005 to 2010, the issue became moot when the state of Indiana finally decided to implement daylight saving time. This resulted in only an approximately one-hour interval between the end of the Indianapolis 500 and the start of the Coca-Cola 600. The Indianapolis 500 start time was moved back to noon Eastern in 2011, but only one attempt – by Kurt Busch in 2014 – has been made since then.
Beginning in 2017, NASCAR adopted the stage-racing format, dividing each of its top three division's races into three stages. Originally, the 600 was going to have stages 1 & 2 be 115 laps in length, with the third and final stage encompassing the remaining 170 laps. Just a few weeks before the race, the stage format for the race was changed with the addition of a fourth stage, and the race is divided into four uniform stages of 100 laps each. This makes it the only race on the schedule with four stages instead of three. If the weather interferes, NASCAR's rule that a race becomes official after the conclusion of the second stage still applies. It also makes the Coca-Cola 600 the highest scoring race in terms of points a driver can collect. Usually, if a driver sweeps all the stages and passes inspection they score 60 points (40 for winning, and 10 for the first two stages), but with 4 stages the maximum is 70 (which Kyle Busch accomplished in 2018 and Kyle Larson accomplished in 2021 ).
The Coca-Cola 600 has been the site of many drivers' first wins, including Casey Mears (2007), David Reutimann (2009), and future champions David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), and Matt Kenseth (2000). The most recent driver to have the 600 as his first win was Austin Dillon, who won in 2017.