Martin Truex Jr. on Daytona 500 front row a big deal just as well

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The immediate talk after Daytona 500 pole qualifying concluded surrounded one driver, Austin Dillon, and one number, 3, which makes its long-anticipated return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition after 13 years.

The guy on the outside pole’s not a half bad story, either.

Beside the “3,” you’ve got something which fans of the “3” know all too well – an all-black car. Difference is, this one’s No. 78, and is a single-car effort fielded by Furniture Row Racing, driven by new recruit Martin Truex Jr.

Truex’s 2013 was often a comedic tragedy, where it seemed anything that could go wrong did, through no fault of his own. The spiral effect of the Richmond saga eventually led to primary sponsor NAPA Auto Parts leaving Michael Waltrip Racing, then Truex following suit shortly thereafter.

Eventually, he wound up slotting in with FRR, which ascended from midfield obscurity to prominence thanks to Kurt Busch’s efforts behind the wheel.

But Truex, now the lone driver for Barney Visser’s Denver-based effort, was careful to make sure he credited the team first after Sunday’s run.

“It means a ton to me,” said Truex Jr., via the Daytona-Beach News Journal. “Obviously, going to a new team, it’s the kind of thing that you look for.

“The first run out (in practice), out of everyone’s first run, I believe, except (Paul Menard), we ran the quickest lap. I knew we were in the ballpark.”

Truex was careful not to run too much in practice, but he had the speed at his disposal to use for qualifying. And like the all-powerful Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets, Truex’s No. 78 also uses the RCR-built engines.

So in that respect, it wasn’t a surprise to see him so far up the qualifying grid.

Still, Truex – himself a former Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver – expressed some relief he was second rather than first.

“Definitely glad I didn’t knock the 3 off the pole,” Truex said afterwards. “That’s all I’m going to say. We’ll wait until July to get ours.”

In the pantheon of “great story lines,” Truex isn’t the highest on the list. But everyone loves an underdog, and most everyone loves a comeback story.

After Truex’s up-and-down 2013, finishing the Daytona 500 one spot higher next week could tick both of those boxes nicely.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.