Every week, SB Nation Atlanta takes a look at the racing fortunes of everybody's favorite Atlanta-based NASCAR sponsor: Coca-Cola! This week, we introduce you to the Coca-Cola Racing Family and recap their up-and-down fortunes in the season-opening Daytona 500.
The Coca-Cola Company had been involved in racing for many years when The Coca-Cola Racing Family was first introduced in 1998. Bobby Allison had won races in the 1970s driving the famous red and gold "Coke Machine" race cars. Mello Yello had been Kyle Petty's primary sponsor from 1991-94, as well as appearing in the Tom Cruise movie "Days of Thunder" as sponsor of the car Cruise's character, Cole Trickle, drives in the climactic Daytona 500 at the end of the film. In addition, many drivers such as Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt had Coca-Cola as an associate sponsor.
In 1998, Coca-Cola took its involvement in NASCAR a good step further by inking a deal to replace Pepsi as the official soft drink of NASCAR. In Daytona that February, they announced The Coca-Cola Racing Family of drivers, featuring such NASCAR Cup stars as Elliott, Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, and Ricky Rudd.
Since that "first family," the lineup has fluctuated as drivers have changed teams, retired, or, in Earnhardt's case, passed on. There have, however, been several mainstays, including original Coca-Cola Racing Family members Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, who joined the family as a Cup rookie in 1999, and Greg Biffle, who also joined the family during his rookie season in 2003.
The 2011 Coca-Cola Racing Family, in order of car number, is as follows
No. 1 Jamie McMurray (since 2006-2009, 2011) - Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
No. 11 Denny Hamlin (since 2006) - Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
No. 14 Tony Stewart (since 1999) - Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
No. 16 Greg Biffle (since 2003) - Roush-Fenway Racing Ford
No. 20 Joey Logano (since 2010) - Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
No. 22 Kurt Busch (2002-2005, 2011) - Penske Racing Dodge
No. 31 Jeff Burton (since 1998) - Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
No. 33 Clint Bowyer (since 2009) Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
No. 39 Ryan Newman (since 2010) Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
No. 47 Bobby Labonte (since 1998) JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota
In order of their finishes, here is a look fortunes of the Coca-Cola Racing Family in Sunday's Daytona 500. Several ran well, but only two managed top-10 finishes.
Bobby Labonte, 4th Place: In his first race for JTG-Daugherty Racing, the 2000 Sprint Cup champion ran among the leaders for most of the race. He was second heading to the checkered flag, but was shuffled to fourth by the time the race reached its conclusion. It is his first top-five finish since Las Vegas in March 2009.
Kurt Busch, 5th Place: Kurt came just short of history Sunday. He was third as the white flag waved and in prime position to pass Trevor Bayne to become the first driver ever to win the Bud Shootout, a Thursday qualifying race, and the Daytona 500 in one Speedweeks. Alas, like Labonte, he was shuffled on the last lap and finished fifth.
Tony Stewart, 13th Place: It was unlucky 13 for the driver nicknamed Smoke. Tony was second on the final restart, but failed to get going and had fallen completely out of the top 10 by the time the checkered flag waved. Finishing 13th in his 13th Daytona 500 start, Stewart remained winless in the Great American Race.
Clint Bowyer, 17th Place: Clint was one of two Coca-Cola Racing drivers left heartbroken in the race's closing laps. After leading the second-most laps of anyone on the day, 31, Bowyer's Chevrolet was significantly damaged in a multi-car crash on lap 197. He remained on the lead lap, but finished well shy of where he could have.
Jamie McMurray, 18th Place: Pursuing his second-straight Daytona 500 win, Jamie ran near the front all race until dropping a cylinder late in the going. He still managed a lead lap finish after leading 11 laps.
Denny Hamlin, 21st Place: Star-crossed throughout Speedweeks, Denny's Daytona 500 had a fitting end, as he was caught in the same crash that involved Clint Bowyer on the 197th lap while racing among the leaders. The accident dropped him off the lead lap, where he limped to a 21st place finish.
Ryan Newman, 22nd Place: The 2008 Daytona 500 winner led 37 laps Sunday, most of any driver, but was caught in the lap 197 accident and then in another crash on the first green-white-checkered attempt. Despite significant damage to his Chevy, Newman finished the race, albeit two laps down.
Joey Logano, 23rd Place: Joey was fast throughout Speedweeks, but contact with Brad Keselowski after Keselowski had crashed in turn three relegated him to a disappointing 23rd place finish, two laps off the pace.
Greg Biffle, 35th Place: Biffle's eventful 500 began on lap 28, when he was involved in "The Big One." Returning to the track after repairs, Greg made contact with teammate Matt Kenseth, sending Kenseth head-on into the outside wall, on lap 134, then crashed with Juan Pablo Montoya just after the restart from Kenseth's accident.
Jeff Burton, 36th Place: Jeff had one of the fastest cars in Daytona, winning his 150-mile qualifying race on Thursday, but his Earnhardt-Childress powerplant grenaded just before the midpoint of Sunday's race. He had partnered with teammate Clint Bowyer to form one of the most potent two-car tandems up to that point, staying amongst near the front until his engine failed.
This week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway, where Coca-Cola Racing Family member Ryan Newman is the defending race champion.