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.