FONTANA, Calif. — Austin Dillon won the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Friday after no drivers completed a lap in the final round of qualifying.
Dillon got his fourth career pole essentially by default after a bizarre scene that left fans booing the drivers.
“I have seen it in other sports, but never seen it in ours,” Clint Bowyer said. “We just got booed, and it is disappointing.”
With all 12 final-round drivers determined to go out as late as possible in a drafting group, every car idled near the front of the pit road from the start of the session until roughly 44 seconds remained. The cars had barely exited Turn 4 when time ran out, which meant none of the final laps counted.
Dillon got the pole for turning the fastest lap in the previous session in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. He won each of the two rounds of qualifying in which drivers actually drove, and he thought his pole was deserved.
“I’m happy for our team to get the pole that no one ever ran a lap for in qualifying,” Dillon said with a laugh. “I think it’s pretty cool. It might be the last time you ever see that kind of qualifying.”
The teams’ decision to play an elaborate game of chicken on pit road in qualifying was caused by the importance of drafting, which essentially is the only way to post the fastest lap on longer tracks this season. NASCAR’s new racing rules package minimizes the differences between the teams, which makes drafting almost the only advantage available in single laps.
“We all knew it was coming,” Jimmie Johnson said. “It was just a matter of time before this situation happened. NASCAR, unfortunately, is in a tough box with this rules package and how we qualify. I know we’re sensitive to not have single-car qualifying because at a lot of tracks, it would be really boring, and maybe (at) this track we need to rethink it, and maybe single-car is the way to go about it so the fans get to see each car race for the pole.”
But the extraordinary sight of race cars not racing, followed by fans booing a lap that didn’t count, was a profound disappointment to Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition.
“I saw what our fans don’t want,” Miller said. “Having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn’t get a time posted on the board and kind of making a mockery out of the qualifying is not what we expect for our fans. It’s a little bit on us in that we hoped things would go better than that. … We have a little bit of work to on our part to get a little bit better format so things like that can’t happen.”
Miller said changes to the qualifying rules are likely to be made before the circuit visits Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks. Miller is “not quite sure what” NASCAR will do, but a change probably won’t be necessary for the short track at Martinsville next week, since drafting isn’t as important there.
“We don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying, but there may not be another way,” Miller said. “We want to try to exhaust every possibility before we do that, because it’s not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”