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.

Christopher Bell survives caution-filled Chili Bowl Prelim

TeeJay Crawford
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Christopher Bell survived the most caution-filled Feature of the week to win Thursday’s preliminary night at the 33rd Annual Chili Bowl. His ability to hold the lead on restarts helped lock Bell into his seventh Saturday A-Feature since 2013.

“I pretty much suck on restarts. I do better when I get into a rhythm,” said Christopher Bell on twitter.

Bell started the feature in third place behind Danny Stratton and Jerry Coons Jr. He took the lead on the first official lap of the race, but not until after two Lap 1 cautions.

The Oklahoma native held the lead through the remaining 24 laps and eight cautions until being challenged by Shane Golobic and CJ Leary on the final laps. Golobic briefly made it past him though Turns 3 and 4 of the final lap. Bell regained control in 1 and 2 to claim the checkers.

“It was a lot busier than what I wanted them to be. Shane definitely made a race out of it and I hope the last four laps were a good show. It was a lot of fun … well it was fun because I won but if I hadn’t won it wouldn’t have been much fun,” Bell said regarding the final laps.

Golobic earned the second transfer into Saturday’s A-Main after starting to the outside of Bell.

Leary completed the podium with the pole sitter Stratton finished fourth.

Josh Most battled through the B after a hard crash in his heat. He rebounded to transfer to the A and drove from 22nd to fifth.

With the throng of cautions at the start and finish of the race, the goal quickly became survival. Only 15 of 24 entries completed the full feature. Notable DNF’s included Ryan Bernal who started fifth, Coons, who started on the front row and Thomas Meseraull in 15th.

NASCAR’s Justin Allgaier finished 13th and will have a long day ahead of him on Saturday.

Friday Jan. 18 will be the final Qualifying night for the 33rd annual Chili Bowl Nationals.

Thursday’s Results

1. Christopher Bell
2. Shane Golobic
3. CJ Leary
4. Danny Stratton
5. Josh Most
6. Austin Brown
7. Tracy Hines
8. Casey Shuman
9. Kyle Cummins
10. Andrew Felker
11. Austin O’Dell
12. Seth Carlson
13. Justin Allgaier
14. Chase Johnson
15. Johnny Herrera
16. Ryan Bernal
17. Jerry Coons Jr.
18. Matt Sherrell
19. Thomas Meseraull
20. Jake Morgan
21. Andrew Deal
22. Kevin Bayer
23. Kaleb Currie
24. Joe B. Miller