Is Pole Position Important In NASCAR Racing?

In NASCAR racing, the pole position is a starting position awarded to the driver with the fastest qualifying time. The fastest qualifier is then known as the pole-sitter and will start the race from this coveted position. However, you might be wondering just how important the pole position is in NASCAR races.

Pole Position in NASCAR Plays an important role: It improves safety at the race start and reduces the chances of crashes by putting faster cars in front, builds driver confidence, gives the pole sitter clean air and a clean run to the first corners and comes with financial bonuses and rewards for drivers and teams..

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the importance of the pole position in NASCAR racing. We’ll be discussing the functional role the pole position plays, the advantages of starting the race as the pole-sitter, and the probability of winning the race when starting from this sought-after position.

How Does NASCAR Determine Pole Position?

To fully appreciate the importance of the pole position in NASCAR racing, it’s crucial you understand how the pole position is determined. As any motorsport fan knows, the pole position is arguably the most coveted position at the start of a race.

The so-called pole-sitter starts the race from this position, which is always located ahead of other racers. To start the race from this advantageous position, the racer needs to meet certain criteria. While this criterion can differ depending on the type of race, the pole position is usually given to the driver who completes the fastest qualifying lap.

Ultimately, NASCAR’s practicing and qualifying formats differ slightly between different series, such as the Cup Series and Xfinity Series. However, the pole position is always awarded to the fastest qualifier. Of course, the racer that has the fastest qualifying lap is known as the pole-sitter.

Naturally, taking the pole position is already a fantastic display of a driver’s ability. The pole-sitter will then start the actual race from this coveted position. However, you may be wondering about how important the pole position really is in NASCAR racing.


How Important Is Pole Position In NASCAR Racing?

As we mentioned above, the pole position is the optimum starting point in any motorsport race. This position is awarded to the driver with the best qualifying time. However, starting the race from the pole position is more than just a demonstration of a driver’s skill; it’s a position that comes with many advantages.

However, before we discuss these advantages, it’s important to consider the important functional role the pole position plays in NASCAR racing. Ultimately, the existence of the pole position makes the race safer for all drivers.

By positioning the fastest qualifiers at the start of a race, NASCAR is effectively reducing the risk of a crash occurring during the race. By allowing the fastest drivers – as determined by the qualifying process – to start the race, faster drivers will not need to pass slower drivers at the start of the race. This has proven highly effective in reducing crashes during motorsport races.

nascar pole position

5 Advantages Of Starting From Pole Position In A NASCAR Race

Besides making the race safer and allowing a driver to demonstrate their racing abilities before a race, there are many advantages of being the pole-sitter. Let’s look at three of the main advantages for pole-sitters starting a NASCAR race.

1: Increased Focus

One of the main advantages of starting the race from the pole position is the increased concentration it offers. The pole-sitter will not need to worry about the drivers behind them and what they are doing. Instead, the pole-sitter can focus on the race at hand and stay in the lead.

2: Clean Air Driving

Another benefit of starting the race as the pole-sitter is that the air you’re driving in will be cleaner. Other racers in the pack will need to mitigate the effects of turbulence created by the speed of other cars on the racetrack. 

3: Cash Bonuses

In NASCAR racing, the coveted pole position is often associated with cash bonuses. This is typically awarded by sponsors, such as race and driver sponsors. This bonus is another popular benefit of starting a race as the pole-sitter.

4: Confidence

As we mention below, although there is no guarantee that pole position means a win in NASCAR, in fact it’s less likely that other motorsports, knowing you are the fastest drier on the track that weekend certainly boosts confidence. Performing at his level requires buckloads of that!

5: Get To The First Corner… First!

This is something they talk about heavily in Formula 1 as well, where in truth it is more important. However once the pace carOpens in a new tab. gets ready to move from the track and the cars start to speed up and weave. The lead car in pole has the best view, cleanest track, more space to warm up those tires for when the green flag waves.

It means they should be able to choose their line into the first corner while the engines warm up and people find their place. Of course this is NASCAR so after a few laps this may no longer be the case, however it is certainly an advantage.

There are also other reasons that the pole position is important to drivers in NASCAR races.

Are Some Pole Positions More Important Than Others?

Perhaps more important than the percentage of times a pole position driver has won from pole , is at which track it has happened. NASCAR tracks, both road and oval Opens in a new tab.are very different racing experiences for both fans and drivers. For example at Daytona ( more on this below) and Talladega, there are much more opportunities to pass that at road tracks or short or medium courses like Richmond or Darlington Speedways.

The most serious contender for percentage wins from pole position is Richard Petty, we go into this below, who won pole position 123 times, and won 61 one of those times from pole position. Giving him a percentage win from pole of 49.6%. This is compared to his win percentage of just under 17% (16.89) from all races. So for him it seems that pole position certainly helped.

Has Any Driver Won The Daytona 500 From Pole Position.

There have been five drivers who have won the Daytona seven times between them from pole position. The details are in the table below. We have also included some more facts and stats about pole at the Daytona 500 below that.

DriverYear Won Pole Position and the race At Daytona 500.
Bill ElliottTwo times winner in 1985, and 1987
Carl YarboroughTwo times winner in 1968 and 1984
Buddy BakerWon pole and the race in 1980
Richard PettyWon pole and the race in 1966
Fireball Roberts Won pole and the race in 1962

Who Has Had The Most Pole Positions At The Daytona 500?

Three Drivers are tied for the most pole positions ever at the Daytona 500. Bill Elliott, Carl Yarborough and Buddy Baker have all won Pole position 4 times.

Who Has The Most Back To Back Pole Positions At The Daytona 500

There are three drivers who have won pole position at the Daytona 500 over 3 consecutive years. These are

  • Bill Elliott: Won Pole Position in 1985, 1986 and 1987
  • Fireball Roberts: Won Pole Position in 1961, 1962 and 1963
  • Ken Schrader: Won Pole Position in 1988, 1989 and 1990

First Woman To Win Pole Position At The Daytona 500?

Danica Patrick is the first and only woOpens in a new tab.manOpens in a new tab. to win Pole Position at the Daytona 500. She came 8th in the race less than a second behind the winner Jimmie Johnson. She was also the first women to lead a NASCAR Cup Series race in History.

How Often Do Pole-Sitters Win NASCAR Races?

How often does the pole-sitter win a NASCAR race? In order to appropriately address this question, we need to consider the two distinct NASCAR eras. The modern NASCAR era started in 1972, with all prior events being classed as the pre-modern era.

This distinction is crucial when considering how often pole-sitters win these races. ResearchOpens in a new tab. has demonstrated that NASCAR’s modern era has seen a steady decline in the probability of the pole-sitter winning a given race. This is largely attributed to new standardization regulations introduced by NASCAR in the early 70s, 80s and 90s. Spacers, restrictors, engines etc.

During the pre-modern era, it is said that a driver starting a race from the pole position had up to a 30% chance of winning the race. (More if you are Richard Petty!!)

However, evidence now shows that this probability has steadily decreased since 1972. Despite this, many NASCAR drivers still vie for the pole position.

Ultimately, the reason for this comes down to the advantages of starting the race from the pole position. From the cash prize to advantages throughout the race, there are many advantages the pole position offers drivers and teams. We discussed many of these advantages in the previous section!

Pole Position Statistics

Below we have information on The top 10 pole position holders in NASCAR, and their win statistics, and percentage.

We have also included their races and win to compare the times they won from pole and their overall win percentage. Then we can see if, for these top ten pole winners, if it’s more likely they win from pole position.

We could go further and in fact Jayski has the full listOpens in a new tab., but to give an idea of how important is this is a pretty clear indication. have won from pole, which driver has the highest percentage of wins from pole and more.

Driver NamePole PositionsWins from Pole and percentageNumber of RacesOverall Wins and percentage.
Richard Petty12361 (49.6%)1184200 (16.9%)
David Pearson11337 (32.7%)574105 (18.3%)
Jeff Gordon8120 (24.7%)80593 (11.5%)
Carl Yarborough6916 (23.2%)56083 (14.8%)
Darrel Waltrip5924 (40.6%)80984 (10.4%)
Bobby Allison5820 (34.5%)71884 (11.7%)
Mark Martin568 (14.3%)88240 (4.5%)
Bill Elliott5517 (30.9%)82844 (5.3%)
Ryan Newman515 (9.8%)72518 (2.48)
Bobby Isaac4921 (42.8%)30837 (12.1%)

So, although a little maths is needed, and it isn’t university level math or anything, you can see that if a driver is on pole position then their chances of winning are greatly improved when compared to them just being in the race ( and those race numbers include the times they we on pole) so the race win percentage would actually be lower if we took those out.

So although we mentioned that it is less important in NASCAR than other motorsports, with less passing, you can see why drivers still race hard to get to the front of the pack once the race starts, it not only gives them a financial boost, it improves their chances of a win!


It appears that although less so than other forms of motor racing, the pole still plays an important role in NASCAR, be it for safety, to ensure smooth starts, or for drives to get way cleanly, or even for a little extra prize money.

What changes the next gen car bring to this remain to be seen, but if the past is anything to go by, being in pole position certainly helps more than not being in it!


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