All Nascar races are not created equal. Since the inception of stock car racing, there have been certain events that for some reason or another hold more prestige than others. And in the world of auto racing prestige often comes with a bigger purse, not to mention bragging rights for the teams and drivers lucky enough to win one of these marquis NASCAR Crown Jewel Races.
The five most prestigious races in a NASCAR season are known as the Crown Jewels. These are, Daytona 500, The Coca-Cola 600, The Indy 200, the Southern 500, and the Yellawood 500. These races, like Monaco Gran Prix in F1, or the Indy 500 in IndyCar are a prized win for any NASCAR driver.
Why are All NASCAR races not created Equal?
Some races in all motorsports have added prestige, a Monaco win for an F1 driver, or an Indy 500 win for an IndyCar win, and indeed, a Daytona 500 victory or a win in the Coke 600 can look quite impressive on a driver’s resume, and in some cases can even make an otherwise lackluster career complete
Drivers such as Trevor Bayne, Derrick Cope, Paul Menard, Casey Mears and Michael McDowell have earned a place in the annals of Nascar history thanks hugely to their wins in crown jewel events.
The same holds true for pretty much all forms of motorsport: off-road racing has the Paris-Dakar rally, the Baja 1000 and the Pikes Peak Race to the Clouds; IndyCar has the Indianapolis 500, of course; and Formula 1 has its marquis event: The Grand Prix of Monaco, held on the streets of fabulous Monte Carlo.
Nascar is no different. But what is it that makes some Nascar events more eminent than others? Let’s find out.
1. NASCAR Crown Jewels: The DAYTONA 500
Daytona International Speedway; Daytona Beach, FL. Traditionally held in mid-February.
The Great American Race has been held on the high banks of the Daytona Beach, Florida superspeedway since 1959. But really the history of stock cars in the “Spring break capital of the world” goes back much further, to the early years of the 20th century in fact.
The old “Beach and Road course” had been holding auto racing events for more than 50 years before the superspeedway was built, and it is fair to say that Daytona Beach was one of the earliest motorsports meccas in America.
It is that heritage — along with a racing facility that must have surely been mind-blowing at the time it was built and remains so today — that has made the Daytona 500 the “Superbowl of Stock Car Racing.” It is also the most lucrative Nascar race by a wide margin, with the total purse for the event exceeding the $20 million USD mark in recent years. And the winning team will receive the lion’s share of that.
2. NASCAR Crown Jewels: The COCA-COLA 600
Charlotte Motor Speedway; Charlotte NC. Traditionally Held on Memorial Day weekend.
Held right in Nascar’s backyard of Charlotte, North Carolina, this is the longest race in stock car racing — a grueling 600-mile (almost a thousand kilometers!) event that puts both man and machine to the test each and every year on Memorial Day weekend.
It is unique among the 40 or so events (counting exhibition races) on the Nascar Cup Series schedule, and arguably the most challenging.
The race coincides with the Indianapolis 500, which is also ran on Memorial Day weekend (The Monaco Grand Prix is also held at this time in late May, making this the most eminent weekend in auto racing).
Four drivers have done the “double duty” of running both events on the same day/weekend: John Andretti (nephew of Mario and cousin of Michael) being the first in 1994; Robby Gordon doing so on five separate occasions from 1997 to 2004, almost winning the 500 in 1999 although that was not a double duty year; Tony Stewart twice in 1999 and 2001; and most recently Kurt Busch in 2014.
While Gordon, Stewart and Busch are tied for best double duty Indy 500 finish with 6th place, Stewart’s 2001 effort was the most successful, with a 6th place effort at Indy and 3rd in the 600; and Stewart is thus far the only driver to complete all 1100 miles on the same day by finishing on the lead lap in both events.
You can read more here and below about the Double Duty Challenge.
3. NASCAR Crown Jewels: BRICKYARD 400 (Now the Verizon 200 at The Brickyard)
Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Indianapolis, IN. Formerly held mid-late August, but has now moved to late July.
When stock cars first took the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, talk show legend and IndyCar fan David Letterman stated “It just broke my heart to see those stock cars rumbling down the speedway.” Nonetheless, the race went on to become one of the Cup Series’ crown jewel events.
And with the track’s long history and rich Indy 500 heritage, how could it not have done so? By the time Nascar came to Indy the track was closing in on its centennial. While it may not have quite paralleled the majesty of the 500, the Brickyard 400 became a great American classic in its own right thanks to several exciting race finishes in its early years.
The tradition of “kissing the bricks,” started by two-time winner Dale Jarrett, also gave the race a distinct character all its own, and was a testament to how much reverence even stock car racers held for the track’s heritage.
Nowadays, the Indianapolis event is a 200-miler run on the infield road course. Nevertheless, Indy is Indy, and this new event is just another chapter in the track’s ongoing story.
4. NASCAR Crown Jewels: SOUTHERN 500
Darlington Raceway; Darlington SC. Traditionally held Labor Day weekend.
This Labor Day Classic was lost to stock car fans for a time in favor of the California Speedway (now the Auto Club Speedway) after the 2003 season. However, the Southern 500 was restored to its rightful place on the tour in 2015, this time with a “throwback” theme featuring retro liveries for the cars, giving the event a unique flavor.
What makes this race a crown jewel is the inherent challenge presented by the egg-shaped Darlington Raceway, a track known by many nicknames including “The Lady in Black,” and “The Track Too Tough to Tame.” It appears in out toughest NASCAR racetracks at its rightful place here.
This latter especially has proven true. Many a million-dollar dream came to a crashing halt here back when then-series sponsor Winston had a million-dollar prize program for drivers who could sweep the marquis races in a season. This was done twice: by Bill Elliot in 1985 and Jeff Gordon in 1997. This storied history is another aspect of the Southern 500 that makes it a bonafide crown jewel.
5. NASCAR Crown Jewels: Yellawood 500 (formally the Winston 500)
Talladega Superspeedway; Talladega, AL. Traditionally held early October.
Lastly we have this late-season crown jewel event. What could make the spectacle that is Nascar’s biggest track — known for the inevitable “big one” — even more exhilarating for drivers, team and fans alike?
Answer: the playoff format. Never have the stakes been higher in this nail-biter of a 500-mile race, where simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can ruin what had been a stellar season and spell the end of a championship dream.
It is this element of unpredictability that makes this race so intense, and that intensity is why it has earned its designation of crown jewel status. To come out of this race triumphant after all the carnage has been cleared is a testament to a drivers’ skill and mental fortitude in the face of pressure.
The NASCAR Grand Slam
The NASCAR Grand slam requires victory in all five of the Crown Jewel races in a single season. The Grand Slam is still yet to be achieved in a single season, which is a testament to its difficulty. It has been achieved across seasons with a selection of drivers claiming victory in all five races in different years.
It was originally, prior to the Brickyard 400’s introduction in 1994, a four race challenge, and before the introduction of Talladega a 3 race challenge.
From 1985 to 1997 there was a million dollar prize offered to the driver who could win three of the crown jewels in a single season. It was achieved in the first year of operation when Bill Elliott won at Daytona, Talladega and Darlington, however it then wasn’t won again till its last year of running in 1997 by Jeff Gordon who won at Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington.
However before the Crown Jewels expanded to five races there were two drivers who had won three out of four, or three out of three. David Pearson won three out of four in 2976 and LeeRoy Yarbrough won the triple crown in 1969 by winning at Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington. This was a year before Talladega and 26 years before The Brickyard were introduced.
There have been drivers to win all the Crown Jewel races across different seasons, and to make it easier we have included their details in the table below. They are known as Career Grand Slam Champions. We have added the brickyard results at the end (as a grand slam plus one)
Table 1: NASCAR Career Grand Slam Information
|Driver||Career Grand Slam Race Wins not including Brickyard||Grand Slam Titles||Brickyard and other track notes|
|Jeff Gordon||16||3||Won 5 times at Brickyard|
|Bobby Allison||13||3||Won 3 times at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and 4 at Darlington.|
|Richard Petty||11||1||Includes his record 7 wins at Daytona.|
|David Pearson||10||1||One Win at Daytona|
|Dale Earnhardt||10||1||One win at Daytona, though came close on number of occasions for more.|
|Jimmie Johnson||10||2||Has won 4 times at the Brickyard|
|Darrell Waltrip||9||1||One win at Daytona|
|Buddy Baker||8||1||One win at Daytona|
|Kevin Harvick||6||1||Still Racing in 2022, a win at Daytona and Talladega would see him claim a second Career Grand slam. Has also won at Indy 3 times|
While there is room for contention with this list of Nascar crown jewel races, these are the ones that have historically been viewed as the most prestigious.
Does an event such as the Bristol night race held in the summer deserve to be called a crown jewel? It is a perennial fan favorite and the most popular race on the schedule, after all.
At any rate, there has been talk that Nascar may make moves to restore these marquis event to their former glory (perhaps with purse increases).
It’s hard to see how adding more prestige to these races could be bad for the sport.