Coke Zero 400 preparing for final July 4 run

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daytona International Speedway has played host to races on July 4 or the Fourth of July Weekend every year since the Speedway opened in 1959. That will change following next month’s Coke Zero 400. 

Next year that race will be held on Aug. 29. That means the Coke Zero 400 will end the Cup Series’ regular season, making it a huge race in terms of playoff implications. 

Although Daytona will now open and close the NASCAR schedule, there’s still some nostalgia that will be lost with the speedway no longer hosting a race on the Fourth of July Weekend. 

“This is significant for this to be the last July 4th race ever at Daytona,” said 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch at Wednesday’s Coke Zero 400 media day. “I’m sad to see it go. It’s a tough date that all of us in NASCAR will have to adjust to. We’ll have to get used to going somewhere different and not being able to spend a holiday weekend at the beach in Daytona.”

Retired U.S. Army Col. Hal Kushner, who served in Vietnam and was held as a prisoner of war for 5 ½ years, will be the Honorary Pace Truck driver for the 61st annual Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Saturday, July 6 at Daytona International Speedway. 

Kushner, who has been an ophthalmologist in the Daytona Beach area since 1977, served as a flight surgeon with the 1st Squadron, 9th U.S. Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam. He was captured by the Viet Cong shortly after his helicopter crashed on Nov. 30, 1967 and was held in captivity in brutal conditions until his release on March 16, 1973. 

His many military awards include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. He was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001.

“The July Fourth weekend has always been a very special time to me,” Kushner said. “I’m looking forward to driving the pace truck and celebrating our country’s birthday with NASCAR fans.”