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).

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