Story lines: Lowe’s

Which is the bigger race – the Indianapolis 500 or the Coca-Cola 600?

We could throw the Monaco Grand Prix in there, too, but let’s keep the argument on domestic soil for now, where there really isn’t much to debate. The Indy 500 beats the Coca-Cola 600 in virtually every head-to-head category.

History? Indy 500: 1911; Coke 600: 1960.

Attendance? Indy 500: 250,000-plus; Coke 600: 160,000.

Nickname: Indy 500: “Greatest Spectacle in Racing;” Coke 600: N/A.

Bigger celebrities? Indy 500: Julianne Hough; Coke 600: Yao Ming.

Okay, so the Coke 600 wins that one. But maybe the best question to ask is this: Which race would Tony Stewart rather win?

“I would love to do it again,” Stewart said of attempting to run both races, which has been made logistically impossible since the start time of the Indianapolis 500 was moved back an hour. Stewart attempted the double in 2001 when he finished sixth in the 500 and third in the 600. “My dream of running Indy and winning Indy is still there. It has never gone away.”

With that, let’s get to the top five story lines for the Coca-Cola 600:

1. The Coca-Cola 600 turns 50:

It was originally known as the World 600, and in 1960 Bruton Smith, not the mogul then that he is now, opened up his masterpiece of a track in typical Bruton Smith fashion by hosting the longest race in the world run on an oval track.

Fifty years later, the Coca-Cola 600 is still the longest oval race in the world.

Its first installment came on June 19, 1960. A year later, the 600 was run on the last Sunday of May to compete with the Indianapolis 500. But it wasn’t until 1974, when the Indianapolis 500 was run on the Sunday before Memorial Day, that the two went head-to-head on the same day.

2. Will Tony Stewart win his first points race as an owner?

Taking nothing away from Stewart’s victory in the All-Star race, but it wasn’t a points-paying race, meaning Ricky Rudd’s victory in 1998 still stands as the last time an owner/driver won a Cup race.

“Honestly, the thing that is important in this series … is just being able to be consistent in the top five,” Stewart said. “When we started doing that, that’s where we want to be every week. You know on a particular night when the scenario is working out right, eventually if you’re running up front like that you’re going to get that win. You don’t feel like you have to push and try to make something happen because you know if you’re running that consistent in the top five it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time when.”

3. Will Jeff Gordon’s back hold up?

Gordon kept his back issues a secret all through last season. But it’s been a different story this year. He brought up the issue, unsolicited, prior to the Daytona 500, has alluded to it on several occasions since and this past week underwent a minor procedure that he hopes will eliminate some of the discomfort.

It may only be coincidental that he had the procedure done prior to the season’s longest race, but it’s definitely worth noting. Gordon’s stamina will certainly be tested this weekend, and will be again in two weeks when he heads to Pocono Raceway, which is notorious for races that last far too long.

4. Who has the right strategy?

The added 100 miles often turns the Coca-Cola 600 into a fuel-mileage race. Whichever team best maps out its fuel strategy over the course of the 400-lap race has a good chance of celebrating in victory lane.

This isn’t what fans pay or tune in to see, but it’s always a possibility in racing, especially this weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Just ask Casey Mears, whose only Cup victory came in this race two years ago thanks to using the correct fuel strategy.

“Sometimes, I think a little bit gets taken away from us on that win because it turned out to be fuel mileage,” Mears said. “But, it wasn’t like we were running 20th and made a call to try and steal one. We were running in the top five with a lot of guys who had the opportunity to make the same call and didn’t. We made the right call and it was fun.”

5. Bill Elliott becomes Mr. 800:

Only six drivers have made 800 career Cup starts. Sunday, Bill Elliott will become No. 7.

Elliott, who will turn 54 in October, made his Cup debut in 1976. He retired from full-time racing in 2003, but has maintained a part-time schedule since.

Richard Petty tops the all-time starts list with 1,185. Rounding out the 800-plus-start-club are Ricky Rudd (906), Dave Marcis (883), Terry Labonte (862), Kyle Petty (829) and Darrell Waltrip (809).

Jay Hart is a Senior Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jay a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Saturday, May 23, 2009