Austin Dillon, Richard Childress

Austin Dillon brings No. 3 back in big way — wins pole for Daytona 500


The No. 3 is No. 1.

In the first appearance of the legendary No. 3 in qualifying for a Sprint Cup race since the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, rookie Austin Dillon couldn’t have scripted it any better, putting the fabled car number on the pole for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Dillon, 23, covered the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway racing surface in a top speed of 196.019 seconds at 45.914 seconds.

“This is awesome,” Dillon said. “You just try and stay focused. Everybody wants to see this number perform well, and that’s what my goals are, to stay focused.

“Luckily, I didn’t mess it up. We knew we had a fast car, we came down here and we brought it back. So it’s good.”

Team owner – and Dillon’s grandfather – Richard Childress beamed like he hasn’t since the days Earnhardt was winning six of his career seven Cup championships while driving for Childress.

“I couldn’t be more prouder for Austin, Gil (crew chief Gil Martin) and all the guys that worked so hard this winter to come down here and run good,” Childress said. “We wanted to put on a good show with the (No.) 3 and couldn’t be more prouder for everybody.”

Martin Truex Jr., driving the single-car effort from Furniture Row Racing, will sit alongside Dillon on the front row for the 56th running of the Great American Race on Feb. 23.

“To have another ECR engine with Furniture Row on the outside, that makes us all proud,” Childress said.

Dillon, the fifth rookie in Sprint Cup history to win the pole for the 500, was the only driver to exceed 196 mph in the 49-car qualifying field.

It marks the fourth time in the history of the fabled No. 3 that it has sit on the pole for the Daytona 500. Buddy Baker did it first in 1969, followed by Ricky Rudd (1983) and Earnhardt (1996).

Dillon and Truex highlighted a RCR-powered  juggernaut that placed five cars in the top 12 on the speed charts. Ryan Newman was fifth fastest (195.707 mph), Paul Menard was 10th (194.919) and Brian Scott was 12th (194.776).

Check back for more updates here at NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.