From 1987 until 2001, the race was scheduled as the final race of the NASCAR season, and typically the event in which the champion was decided. Several times, however, the championship was decided prior to this race, or was decided when the points leader simply started the race, clinching enough points simply by finishing last or better.
The 1992 event marked the final race for Richard Petty, and coincidentally, the debut for Jeff Gordon. With six drivers eligible for the Winston Cup Championship, the race is widely regarded as one of the greatest NASCAR races of all time. Alan Kulwicki, who finished second in the race, edged out Bill Elliott, the race winner, by leading one more lap in the race. Kulwicki won the NASCAR Winston Cup title by a then-record margin of only 10 points.
In 2001, the race was scheduled as the season finale, however, it ended up being the second-to-last race. The New Hampshire 300 was postponed from September 16 to the Friday after Thanksgiving, due to 9/11. For 2002, the race was moved to late October in 2002, with the 2003 race being the first with night qualifying, a procedure now standard for both of the circuit's races.
The 1998 race was run mostly at night after a long rain delay; despite the inexperience with the lights, newly installed for an Indy Racing League race, NASCAR and the teams agreed to attempt finishing the race at night. It was shortend to 221 laps because it was after 11:00 PM and NASCAR wanted to "get the fans out at a decent hour". The 1999 Cracker Barrel 500 also ended at night.
In 2006, the race start time was changed from 12:40 PM to 2:55 PM in order to finish the race at night. Driver complaints erupted because of the track's troublesome situation where the sun can get into the driver's eyes in Turn 1, including leading to a crash during the time the sun sets in that area of the track between Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray, led to the abandonment of the 3 PM start after this race.
Beginning in 2009 the Pep Boys Auto 500 will be run Labor Day weekend as part of a realignment agreement with Auto Club Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where Talladega's fall race will move to the Atlanta race weekend and Fontana will get a race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
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