DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The famed No. 3 has returned to the top of the scoring pylon at Daytona Int’l Speedway as rookie driver Austin Dillon won the pole Sunday for next week’s 56th Daytona 500.
The 23-year-old grandson of team owner Richard Childress put the No. 3 Chevrolet on the pole with a fast lap of 196.019 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Daytona Int’l Speedway.
It’s the first time the No. 3 has appeared in the Daytona 500 since the late Dale Earnhardt was killed in the final turn of the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
“Everybody wants to see this number perform well and I have to stay focused,” Dillon said. “You never know when you will be standing in this position again.”
Dillon is the fifth Rookie of the Year candidate to win the Daytona 500 pole. It is the second year in a row a rookie has started in that position.
Martin Truex, Jr. will start on the outside of the front row after he put the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet on the grid with a fast lap at 195.852 mph.
Those two drivers are locked into the starting position of next Sunday’s Daytona 500. The remainder of the 49 drivers that qualified on Sunday will have to advance to their starting positions on the 43-car grid through Thursday night’s Budweiser Duels. The remaining positions at the end of that grid will be filled by qualification speeds and provisional team owner points.
It’s the fourth time the No. 3 has won the Daytona 500 pole, including Buddy Baker in 1969, Ricky Rudd in 1983 and Dale Earnhardt in 1996.
It’s Dillon’s first pole in 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. That it came in car No. 3 for the Daytona 500 makes it that much more special.
“As far as starting the year off with a pole right here, it brings some momentum into our season already to show that RCR cars have speed, and I’m so happy to be working with Gil Martin (crew chief) and all of our guys,” Dillon said. “I sat down at the test at Nashville we had, and it was fun just to sit back and watch them work. They’re so experienced and good at what they do. I know I’m the young guy out of the group, the rookie of the group, and I really think I’m going to learn a lot this year from these guys.”
To see the No. 3 back on the race track at Daytona is something team owner Richard Childress has been waiting to see since that awful day in 2001 when Earnhardt was killed. Although Childress drove that number when he was a race driver, and Ricky Rudd carried that number when he drove for Childress in the early 1980s, the number became famous when Earnhardt and Childress teamed together to win six of Earnhardt’s seven Cup championships.
“We know what tasks are in front of us,” Childress said. “We’ve got this one behind us. We’ve got to go race. I’ve been here many, many years, probably since in the ’60s, and this one is going to be special because my grandson is in it and he’ll be starting from the pole on the 3, but at the end of the day, we all know what we’re here to do, and that’s to go out and put on a great show for the fans and try to win the race.
“You know, the 3 is special to all of us. The family, the Earnhardt family to every one of us, but I think it’s special because Austin, our family is in the car. You know, the emotion will fly if the 3 rolls in there on Sunday. I won’t hold it back, I promise.”
Both cars on the front row are powered by Earnhardt Childress Racing engines. The team also scored a 1-2-3 sweep in last months Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“Back in the day we would go to Talladega and run for seven or eight days and then come here and test and it was never good enough because of all the little details,” said Danny Lawrence, Trackside Service Manager of ECR. “Everybody is involved in this. I’m a little sentimental about the 3 thing and when I saw it get the pole today I was a little tore up. Austin Dillon is such a great kid and it’s awesome to see him get the pole.
“When you come down here for the test you are either good or you are bad. This year we were pretty good and thought we might have a chance to sit on the front row. You do everything you can possibly do and make sure the data is good. The 78 car has five miles on that car. Richard gives our technical partner the same thing we get. Martin Truex said if we beat Austin we might not get another good engine the rest of the year.”