Qualifying up front is very important for several reasons. The foremost is to avoid early trouble as the cars farther back make their moves to the front. Overaggressive driving is usually observed very early in the race, and you don't want to be in the middle of, or behind, that process.

Too many drivers, who are otherwise successful, are terrible qualifiers. Why, when in practice and in the race they can run comparatively fast laps, do they fall down when it counts the most? We have not only discovered the correct method for qualifying, we have also discovered and will explain to you why it works.

We decided to conduct a test session and somewhat of a school and asked our friends, Mike and Kristal Loescher, to instruct a team whose qualifying often leaves something on the table. Marty Zehr, whose son, Dalton, will drive our NASCAR Late Model stock car this year, admitted that they could use some help when approached to participate in this test.

An experienced instructor at the FinishLine School is BJ McLeod, a Florida Super Late Model champion who spent time with Dalton for this test. BJ has a lot of wins to his credit, and more importantly for this effort, a lot of fast times in qualifying. He teaches the driving method developed by Mike and Kristal, which we reported on in the CT article "Head of the Class" (July '04, pg. 81). This is where I took the three-day driving course and where we explained the correct method for driving a stock car. Much of what follows will sound familiar to those who read that article.

Dalton has raced very well in the past and ended up Second in points in the ASA Late Model South series this past year, his rookie year. That is a very good finish, but it could have been better had he qualified better during the season. In a race where he had the quickest and most consistent car in the field based on practice laps, he qualified a disappointing 16th and ended up getting caught up in a first-lap jam up where he got hit from the rear, ending the night for that car.

Had he qualified in the Top 5, he would not have gotten in trouble in that incident. This scenario is typical of many racers, and with a little help and explanation, we think we can help. All you have to do is follow along with this process and try to understand how gains are made and time is lost by your qualifying process, be it right or wrong.

What Defines a Fast Lap?
This question sounds like a no-brainer, but we first need to understand what exactly makes for a fast lap. Of course, it is the recording of the least time possible from starting line to starting line, but there are several factors that play into creating the fast lap.

First, there is turn speed. If you can get through the turns at 68 mph during practice, then that speed should increase by about 2 or more mph on fresh qualifying tires. In a previous article, we found that 1 mph on a half-mile track was good for about 0.2 second, so we should pick up around 0.4 second per lap on fresh tires.

There is also the factor of more aggressive acceleration. That again plays into the fresh tires being able to grip and hold better when asked to accelerate the car earlier than it did on used tires. If we can begin accelerating sooner, then we should gain more speed over the length of the acceleration zone for maybe another 0.1-second gain per straightaway.

With new rubber on the car, we have theoretically gained 0.6 second over our practice times. A good qualifier can do this on a consistent basis, or even better. How do they do that? Let's break this fast lap down and see why it is faster.

CorrectTurn Entry Procedure
The turn entry must be perfect in order for the rest of the lap to be good. Here is where it all starts. If you, the driver, have found the point in practice where you absolutely cannot go in any deeper and still whoa the car down to make the turn, you need to back up the point where you get off the gas at least three to five car lengths.