Top 10 One-Lap Wonders
by Tom Jensen June 17, 2021
Which NASCAR Hall of Famers excelled at qualifying? The list of time-trial titans is filled with surprises.
While qualifying has been eliminated at most NASCAR premier series races, back in the day, the ability to bust off one hot lap in time trials and start a race ahead of the competition was a big deal.
Being the fastest for a single lap earned drivers and teams a trophy, a check, bragging rights and, of course, the coveted pole position. Drivers who qualified up front knew they had fast hot rods. Not surprisingly, some drivers were better at qualifying than others.
This week’s Top 10 List features Hall of Famers who won more poles than races. Some of the names on the list are definite surprises.
10. Tim Flock, 40 poles, 39 wins
A member of the Class of 2014, Tim Flock’s numbers suggest he was equally adept in both qualifying and race scenarios. When he won his second of two premier series titles in 1955, Flock captured 18 poles and won 18 races driving for Carl Kiekhaefer’s powerhouse Chrysler team.
9. Terry Labonte, 27 poles, 22 wins
A winner of premier series championships in 1984 with car owner Billy Hagan and 1996 while driving for Rick Hendrick (2017), Terry Labonte won four poles in three different seasons: 1985, 1987 and 1996. He also had one more pole and one more race win than younger brother Bobby (2021).
8. Bobby Labonte. 26 poles, 21 wins
For Bobby Labonte (2020), all 26 of his poles and all 21 of his race victories came while driving for Joe Gibbs (2020). Surprisingly, perhaps, Labonte’s best season for poles was in 1999, one year before he won his premier series championship, the first of five so far for Gibbs.
7. Fred Lorenzen, 32 poles, 26 wins
Winning 32 poles would be impressive on its own, but Fred Loenzen’s (2015) total is doubly impressive when you consider he only had 158 career premier series starts. Lorenzen never ran a full schedule and in 1963 set a personal best with eight poles in just 29 starts.
6. Rex White, 36 poles, 28 wins
Another unexpected name on this list is short-track ace Rex White (2015), the 1960 premier series champion. White’s best season for poles was in 1962, when he earned the top qualifying spot nine times. He also qualified first on seven occasions in 1958 and ’61.
5. Bill Elliott, 54 poles, 44 wins
No surprise here. Bill Elliott (2015) was a ferocious qualifier and holds the all-time NASCAR fastest pole lap, set at 212.809 mph at Talladega Superspeedway in 1987. In 1985, Elliott put his Harry Melling-owned Ford Thunderbird on the pole for 11 of 28 races, a testament to the team’s speed.
4. Bobby Isaac, 49 poles, 37 wins
In 1970, Bobby Isaac (2016) won his only premier series championship, but a year earlier, he set a NASCAR record that remains to this day. Driving Nord Krauskopf’s powerhouse No. 71 K&K Insurance Dodge, Isaac won a record 19 poles in the 54-race 1969 season.
3. Mark Martin, 56 poles, 40 wins
The numbers don’t lie: Mark Martin (2017) was a fantastic qualifier. Ten times in his Hall of Fame career, Martin had at least three poles in a single season. Martin’s best year for poles came in 2009, when he drove for Rick Hendrick (2017) and qualified No. 1 in seven different races.
2. Buddy Baker, 38 poles, 19 wins
That Buddy Baker (2020) won twice as many poles as races isn’t much of a surprise. The driver known as “Leadfoot” was wide open all the time and he competed in an era where cars weren’t nearly as reliable as they are today. Thirteen of Baker’s 38 poles came in 1979 and ’80, when he drove for Harry Ranier.
1. Alan Kulwicki, 24 poles, 5 wins
In his championship season of 1992, Alan Kulwicki (2019) won the Winston Cup Busch Pole Award, for most poles during the year with six. Kulwicki had been runner-up for the honor three times in the prior five seasons. Longtime NASCAR crew chief “Suitcase” Jake Elder nicknamed Kulwicki “Slider” for his remarkable qualifying prowess.