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

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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.

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Williams confirms Kubica and Sirotkin for Abu Dhabi F1 test

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Williams has confirmed that Robert Kubica will enjoy his third Formula 1 test outing with the team at the end-of-season running in Abu Dhabi next week as rumors grow regarding a possible race seat for 2018.

Almost seven years after his last F1 start, Kubica’s remarkable return from severe injuries sustained in a rally accident saw him enjoy two private tests with Renault before completing running with the team in a 2017-spec car in Hungary over the summer.

Reservations over Kubica’s capabilities prompted Renault to pass on giving him a seat, instead opting to hire Carlos Sainz Jr. for next year, only for Williams to become an alternative for the Pole.

Kubica tested a 2014-spec Williams at both Silverstone and the Hungaroring in recent months, and will now sample a 2017 car when he tests at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kubica will share track time with regular Williams racer Lance Stroll and Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin, who has worked with Renault over the past two years but also missed out on a 2018 seat.

“Williams Martini Racing is pleased to confirm it will run Robert Kubica and Sergey Sirotkin for the Abu Dhabi Pirelli tire test, alongside current race driver Lance Stroll,” a statement from the team reads.

“The Pirelli tire test will take place over two days at the Yas Marina circuit during the week following the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“On day one Robert Kubica will drive the FW40 in the morning session, before Lance Stroll takes over in the afternoon.

“On day two Sergey Sirotkin will drive in the morning and afternoon sessions before handing over to Robert in the late afternoon.

“The test is aimed at evaluating 2018 candidate tires on behalf of the Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli.

“Williams is excited to have this opportunity to assess the new tyres across such an interesting range of drivers: Lance, as confirmed race driver for 2018, Robert with his huge experience, and Sergey as a very promising young talent in Formula 1.”

Williams denied earlier this week it has signed Kubica to partner Stroll for 2018, but indications are the deal looks very likely to go ahead, subject to the relevant paperwork and contracts being finalized.