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.

Three in position to capture World Rally Championship title at Rally Australia

Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Defending champion Sebastien Ogier goes into this weekend’s Rally Australia with a chance to clinch his sixth World Rally Championship in a row. Thierry Neuville, a runner-up four times but never a champion, hopes to change the world order.

Neuville led the series for much of the season but Ogier’s win in Britain and a second place in Spain has given the Frenchman 204 points, three ahead of Neuville, heading into the final rally of the championship.

“We are not the best friends but we are rivals and respect each other for our performances,” Neuville said Wednesday. “I’ve been second many times in the championship now, we are so close to the main goal.”

“If we need to take more risks because we need to pass Sebastien we’re going to try,” the Belgian driver added, “we’ll take the maximum risks.”

Ogier says the feeling is mutual when it comes to his main rival.

“We are different, definitely, but most important we’re in a great fight together and respect each other for that,” Ogier said. “It’s about trying to beat each other and do it with respect.”

Ott Tanak of Estonia sits 23 points behind and with 30 points for a win in Australia, and other results going his way, he could also capture the world title.

Ogier will be hoping for some Friday morning rain to settle the dust and gravel before he sets off first on what will be more than 300 kilometers (180 miles) of timed racing through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast, about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports