NASCAR: The Pepsi 400 Marks the Season's Halfway Point
17 June 1998DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For nearly 40 years the best drivers and teams of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series have returned each summer to Daytona International Speedway for NASCAR's "Mid-Summer Classic," the Pepsi 400.
During the 40-year history of the Speedway, the return trip each July is different from Speedweeks in February, the Pepsi 400 has been somewhat been overshadowed by its big brother, the "Great American Race," the Daytona 500. In 1998, that will change.
Each February, the most cherished prize in motorsports is the focus of every driver, a Daytona 500 title to add to their resume. While a Daytona 500 victory secures a driver's place in history, a victory in next year's Pepsi 400 will be historical as well.
Driving into the hallowed grounds of Daytona's Victory Lane will mean two things on July 4, 1998. First, their name will forever be inscribed in the history books for winning the inaugural nighttime running of the Pepsi 400, while secondly, building second-half momentum for the stretch run to capture the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.
During NASCAR's modern era (1971 to the present), six drivers have captured the Pepsi 400 and the NASCAR Winston Cup Championship in the same year.
The accomplishment occurred in consecutive years as Richard Petty used a win in the Pepsi 400 to propel himself and Petty Enterprises to their sixth series championship in 1975, while Cale Yarborough continued the theme and pulled off the double in 1976.
Dale Earnhardt has used a victory in the Pepsi 400 to fuel his championship drive twice. His only two points-paying NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Daytona, the 1990 and 1993 Pepsi 400s, both resulted in successful championship title runs. Earnhardt has 27 non-points wins at Daytona.
Bill Elliott and his dominating performances on superspeedways in the mid-1980s included a tight victory over Rick Wilson in the 1988 Pepsi 400. That enabled him to drive away from the competition and win his only series title and Jeff Gordon won his first championship in 1995 after capturing his first Pepsi 400 earlier that same year.
Last year, John Andretti beat Terry Labonte to the finish line to secure his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory, also giving four-time Daytona 500 champion Cale Yarborough his first victory as a car owner.
Traditionally the Pepsi 400 is one of the most competitive races of the entire season, with numerous lead changes and close finishes being the norm. The driver visiting Victory Lane on the afternoon of July 4 will have accomplished two goals, the right to go down in history by claiming victory in Daytona's first night NASCAR race and possibly marking himself as the man to beat for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
To witness Daytona's new spectacular lighting system and two nights of NASCAR Winston Cup practice and qualifying for the price of one, Daytona's first-ever Collectible Pole Night Ticket, which is valid for Thursday and Friday track admission, must be purchased in advance for $15. Call the Speedway Ticket Office at (904) 253-7223, or for more information visit http://www.daytonausa.com. Editors Note: The images displayed in this article are available for larger viewing in The Racing Image Galleries and The Visions of Speed Art Gallery.