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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Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”