2021 Jeffgordon

Coca-Cola 600 winner to champion: Comparing last time it happened to present circumstances

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on May 27 and updated on May 31 after the conclusion of the 2021 Coca-Cola 600.

Kyle Larson now has the chance to be the first driver since 1998 to win both the Coca-Cola 600 and NASCAR Cup Series title in the same year. The pilot of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet took the checkered flag Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

RELATED: Larson wins at Charlotte, gives Hendrick win No. 269

Jeff Gordon, also a Hendrick Motorsports driver, was the last to double down with the two accomplishments.

A look at how the two situations compare:

  • Gordon started from the pole position, so did Larson after posting the fastest qualifying lap.
  • Gordon had a career-best 13 wins that season. Larson has two wins through 15 races. His career high was four in 2017. At this rate, though, he very well could top that.
  • Gordon’s 1998 championship was his third. Larson doesn’t have a title to his name.
  • Gordon’s Coca-Cola 600 win was his third that season. Sunday marked Larson’s second.
  • Gordon’s 1998 Coca-Cola 600 victory was his third win of Charlotte’s crown-jewel event. Larson’s 2021 win was his first crown-jewel victory.

Larson is already locked into the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs. BetMGM has him at 17-2 odds to win it all come season’s end on Nov. 7.

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Original story below.

In the past quarter century, there has only been one driver to win both the Coca-Cola 600 and the NASCAR Cup Series title in the same year.

His name is Jeff Gordon – should sound familiar – and he actually accomplished the feat twice in back-to-back seasons from 1997-98. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet performed crown-jewel burnouts at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and enjoyed championship-worthy champagne at Atlanta Motor Speedway in November.

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There have been 14 different Coca-Cola 600 winners and 13 different champions since Gordon’s back-to-back wins. Of those, only six Coca-Cola 600 winners and seven champions are still active. Then, out of those groups, there’s only one former Coca-Cola 600 winner who is not a champion and only two champions who are not a former Coca-Cola 600 winner.

  • Active Coca-Cola 600 winners: Kurt Busch (2010), Kyle Busch (2018), Austin Dillon (2017), Kevin Harvick (2011, 2013), Brad Keselowski (2020) and Martin Truex Jr. (2016, 2019).
  • Active NASCAR Cup Series champions: Kurt Busch (2004), Kyle Busch (2015, 2019), Chase Elliott (2020), Kevin Harvick (2014), Brad Keselowski (2012), Joey Logano (2018) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017).

The 2021 Coca-Cola 600 is Sunday at Charlotte (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). This season’s title race is scheduled for Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway.

RELATED: Betting odds for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600

The stage is set, and maybe the past can predict the future.

  • Gordon won the 1998 Coca-Cola 600 from the pole position. Most of the lineups this season have been set by a performance-metrics formula in order to limit at-track time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be qualifying Saturday (11:05 a.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), though.
  • Gordon had his best season in 1998, knocking out a career-best 13 trips to Victory Lane. None of the current drivers have ever broken double digits in the win column. Harvick came closest last year with nine victories but ultimately finished fifth in the final standings after failing to make the Championship 4. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver has won three times in 38 starts on Charlotte’s oval. BetMGM has him at 12-1 odds to win Sunday.
  • Gordon’s 1998 championship marked his third, with the previous coming in 1995 and 1997. There’s only one driver with two titles already under his belt and could match three this season, and that’s Kyle Busch. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing drivers was crowned champion in 2015 and 2019. Busch has won at Charlotte once in 32 oval starts. He’s sitting at 13-2 odds for Sunday, according to BetMGM.
  • Gordon’s Coca-Cola 600 win went down as his third seasonal win in 1998. Through 14 races this season, there are only two drivers who have won more than one event.
    1. Alex Bowman owns two wins, just like Gordon did entering the crown jewel. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports driver has never won at Charlotte in nine starts on the oval; he has a best finish of seventh in 2019. BetMGM puts him at 16-1 odds for Sunday.
    2. Martin Truex Jr. is a little further ahead with three wins. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver has won three times in 29 starts on Charlotte’s oval. He is Sunday’s favorite at 11-2 odds.
  • Gordon’s 1998 Coca-Cola 600 victory was his third win of Charlotte’s crown-jewel event. There are two drivers with two previous Coca-Cola 600 victories – Harvick and Truex, so they fall under two possible trend categories.

The list of nuanced comparisons and possibilities could go on.

Trying to predict the winner of two huge events based off something that last happened 23 years ago is a rather bold move. But it’s worth remembering these details for Sunday and then maybe even come November. Depends on who wins.