Austin Dillon gets pole in hilariously dumb qualifying session at Auto Club Speedway

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nascar/sprint/drivers/1595/" data-ylk="slk:Austin Dillon">Austin Dillon</a> drives during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at ISM Raceway, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
Austin Dillon drives during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at ISM Raceway, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

NASCAR’s Cup Series qualifying session at Auto Club Speedway was one of the dumbest in recent memory.

None of the 12 eligible drivers made a lap in the third round of qualifying on Friday because they all waited too long to do so. That means Austin Dillon, who had the fastest lap in the second round of qualifying, will start on the pole.

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Why no one made a lap

NASCAR kept its group qualifying format in place in 2019 despite the aerodynamic changes it made to cars at intermediate tracks like Auto Club. Those changes enhanced the drafting effect on the cars and teams quickly realized that the fastest way around the track during qualifying two weeks ago at Las Vegas was to run in the same vicinity as other cars on track to get a draft ... and hope you’re not the lead car in the group.

That plan backfired spectacularly in the five-minute final round. None of the 12 drivers wanted to leave pit road first because they didn’t want to be the first car in a group of drafting cars.

So as the clock approached 60 seconds, the dozen drivers reluctantly left pit road, all playing a bizarre game of chicken to see who wanted to be the car out in front.

But that game was all for nothing, because the clock expired on the round before any of the 12 drivers were able to start a qualifying lap.

Quizzically, Dillon praised the Lord for what happened in the third round. Just a guess, but our higher power above likely does not care about NASCAR qualifying.

The approach worked in Round 2

The same thing happened in the 24-car second round. But it worked because drivers didn’t wait as long. Cars got moving with about 90 seconds to go and everyone in the second round made it to the start/finish line with a couple seconds to spare.

The qualifying format needs to immediately change

What happened on Friday was hilarious and stupid. It was impossible not to laugh at the games drivers were playing at the end of pit road.

But it’s also important to remember that this is just qualifying. It doesn’t have to be hilariously stupid. It can simply be a straightforward way to determine who has the fastest car over a lap or two laps.

NASCAR needs to remember that and get rid of the group qualifying format at tracks where drafting has a significant effect and go back to single-car qualifying. The draft and the games associated with it have turned qualifying at Las Vegas and Auto Club into something more resembling a lottery than a contest of short-run speed. And with fewer than 40 teams showing up to Cup Series races these days, there’s no drama regarding cars failing to qualify.

Will qualifying be more boring? Yeah, probably. But it’ll also be a lot more fair. Not everything has to be designed to create moments.

Starting lineup

1. Austin Dillon

2. Kevin Harvick

3. Aric Almirola

4. Kyle Busch

5. Joey Logano

6. Denny Hamlin

7. Ryan Newman

8. Chase Elliott

9. Clint Bowyer

10. Ryan Blaney

11. Jimmie Johnson

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

13. Brad Keselowski

14. Chris Buescher

15. Kyle Larson

16. Ty Dillon

17. Daniel Hemric

18. Erik Jones

19. David Ragan

20. Daniel Suarez

21. Kurt Busch

22. William Byron

23. Alex Bowman

24. Matt DiBenedetto

25. Paul Menard

26. Ryan Preece

27. Martin Truex Jr.

28. Bubba Wallace

29. Michael McDowell

30. Corey LaJoie

31. Ross Chastain

32. Matt Tifft

33. Landon Cassill

34. Cody Ware

35. Reed Sorenson

36. BJ McLeod

37. Garrett Smithley

38. Joey Gase

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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