Rookie Dillon Puts Famed No. 3 Back on Top at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The No. 14 of A.J. Foyt may be the most famous number in Indianapolis 500 history, but when it comes to the Daytona 500 the No. 3 is in the same category as Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 in terms of stirring the emotions.
The famed No.3 has returned to the top of the scoring pylon at Daytona International Speedway as rookie driver Austin Dillon won the pole Sunday for next week’s 56th Daytona 500.
The 23-year-old grandson of team owner Richard Childress put the No. 3 Chevrolet on the pole with a fast lap of 196.019 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
Childress is also a three-time Brickyard 400 winning team owner including Earnhardt in 1995, Kevin Harvick in 2003 and Paul Menard in 2011.
It’s the first time the No. 3 has appeared in the Daytona 500 since the late Dale Earnhardt was killed in the final turn of the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
“Everybody wants to see this number perform well and I have to stay focused,” Dillon said. “You never know when you will be standing in this position again.”
Dillon is the fifth Rookie of the Year candidate to win the Daytona 500, and this is the second year in a row a rookie has started in that position.
Martin Truex, Jr. will start on the outside of the front row after he put the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet on the grid with a fast lap at 195.852 mph.
Those two drivers are locked into the starting position of next Sunday’s Daytona 500. The remainder of the 49 drivers that qualified on Sunday will have to advance to their starting positions on the 43-car grid through Thursday night’s Daytona Duels. The remaining positions at the end of that grid will be filled by qualification speeds and provisional team owner points.
It’s the fourth time the No. 3 has won the Daytona 500 Pole including Buddy Baker in 1969, Ricky Rudd in 1983, Dale Earnhardt in 1996 and Dillon this year.
It’s Dillon’s first pole in 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
That it came in car No. 3 for the Daytona 500 makes it that much more special.
“As far as starting the year off with a pole right here, it brings some momentum into our season already to show that RCR cars have speed, and I'm so happy to be working with Gil Martin (crew chief) and all of our guys,” Dillon said. “I sat down at the test at Nashville we had, and it was fun just to sit back and watch them work. They're so experienced and good at what they do. I know I'm the young guy out of the group, the rookie of the group, and I really think I'm going to learn a lot this year from these guys.”
To see the No. 3 back on the race track at Daytona is something team owner Richard Childress has been waiting to see since that awful day in 2001 when Earnhardt was killed. Although Childress drove that number when he was a race driver, and Ricky Rudd carried that number when he drove for Childress in the early 1980s, the number became famous when Earnhardt and Childress teamed together to win six of Earnhardt’s seven Cup championships.
“We know what tasks are in front of us,” Childress said. “We've got this one behind us. We've got to go race. I've been here many, many years, probably since in the '60s, and this one is going to be special because my grandson is in it and he'll be starting from the pole on the 3, but at the end of the day, we all know what we're here to do, and that's to go out and put on a great show for the fans and try to win the race.
“You know, the 3 is special to all of us. The family, the Earnhardt family to every one of us, but I think it's special because Austin, our family is in the car. You know, the emotion will fly if the 3 rolls in there on Sunday. I won't hold it back, I promise.”
Both cars on the front row are powered by Earnhardt Childress Racing engines. The team also scored a 1-2-3 sweep in last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“Back in the day we would go to Talladega and run for seven or eight days and then come here and test, and it was never good enough because of all the little details,” said Danny Lawrence, trackside service manager of ECR. “Everybody is involved in this. I’m a little sentimental about the 3 thing, and when I saw it get the pole today I was a little tore up. Austin Dillon is such a great kid and it’s awesome to see him get the pole.
“When you come down here for the test you are either good or you are bad. This year we were pretty good and thought we might have a chance to sit on the front row. You do everything you can possibly do and make sure the data is good. The 78 car has five miles on that car. Richard gives our technical partner the same thing we get. Martin Truex said if we beat Austin we might not get another good engine the rest of the year.”
Truex admitted that was something he actually thought about.
“Well, obviously it's good enough to be on the front row, so it's pretty dang good,” Truex said. “That thing under the hood, we wouldn't be where we're at, so we obviously owe a lot to them, Richie Gilmore, Danny Lawrence, everybody at ECR. It's been quite a few years since I ran an ECR engine. I think last time I did was here at Daytona and I was on the pole. Got a pretty good track record of qualifying here with an ECR engine under the hood, and obviously they're building some big power, and definitely glad I didn't knock the 3 off the pole. That's all I'm going to say.
“We'll wait until July to get ours.”
Truex’s practice on Saturday consisted of one lap followed by a qualifying simulation and all the readings on the car were right on target, according to Lawrence. That allowed Furniture Row Motorsports to get on the front row for the Daytona 500.
Truex scored his sixth top-10 start in 18 races at Daytona. And in his first race with Furniture Row Racing it was an opportune time for the driver that lost his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing when sponsor NAPA bolted over the Chase scandal at Richmond last September.
“Well, it means a ton to me,” Truex said. “Obviously going to a new team, this is the kind of thing that you look for. Can't say how proud I am of Todd and Cole and Barney, and everybody at Furniture Row Racing for what they've been able to do, and it's pretty amazing to not test, run one run yesterday, literally this was only the second time the car had been on the racetrack, and just shows what kind of race cars this team builds, and just proud to be the one holding the gas on the floor today.
“Honestly we were watching TV when I seen that Greg Biffle ran in the 45 second bracket. I honestly thought that was going to be really tough to beat, and then Newman went out and went fast, and of course that Austin went and put up a big number, and I was like, okay, I think we do have a shot now. You never know until you go here. There's so many tiny little things that the team do to find that little speed, and fortunately Todd and the guys did a great job of finding some.”
The drivers that have fast qualifying times but didn’t get locked into their starting positions include Greg Biffle, third at 195.818 mph in a Roush Fenway Ford followed by teammate Carl Edwards’ 195.712 mph. Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet rounded out the top five at 195.707 mph in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Last year’s pole winner, Danica Patrick – the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and former IndyCar Series winner, was 25th out of the 48 drivers that took qualification times on Sunday with a lap at 194.380 mph in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. But it wouldn’t have mattered where she qualified because she was one of three Chevrolet drivers that had engines failures in Saturday’s practice. By changing engines, those three drivers, including two-time Brickyard 400 winner and two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind., and Bobby Labonte, will have to drop to the rear of the field for their respective Daytona Duel qualifying races on Thursday and for the 56th Daytona 500 next Sunday.
“I learned that lap was just for the guys and to condone them for putting it all back together, getting another engine in it, and we crashed a car last night,” Patrick said. “And just to say, this is your hard work over the winter and what you put our blood, sweat, and tears into to try to win the pole again for the Daytona 500. They deserve to get a lap out there. So, it’s definitely disappointing, knowing that we’re starting from the back of, not so much the Duels, but the (Daytona) 500. I don’t understand it, but it’s what I have to do.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the first driver to make a qualification attempt and was still on the pole after more than half the field made qualification attempts. But he would ultimately drop to seventh with a lap at 195.211 mph in a Hendrick Chevrolet.
“Steve (Letarte, crew chief) did a great job working on the car, trying to get more speed out of it,” Earnhardt said. “We definitely picked up, so we are happy about that. I scuffed the side skirt just a little bit on the apron in turn two trying to run tight on the line there, and that's never good when you are dragging anything. So, that cost us a little bit of time, so we will definitely appreciate the pickup. We were nowhere near that fast yesterday. Hopefully that the track hasn't really picked up any from yesterday. Hopefully it slows down and gets windy for those other guys."
Stewart, another driver that has to start in the rear of the field, clocked in 35th with a lap at 193.365 mph in a Chevrolet.
“I’m not real happy with it, but it is what it is,” Stewart said. “We are going to have to start at the back both Thursday and Sunday anyway, so it’s not really going to matter.”
By winning the pole, Dillon will start first in the first Budweiser 150-Mile Qualifying Race on Saturday night as part of a 25-car field. Truex will be the pole-sitter for the second 150-Mile Qualifying Race that will feature 24 cars.
The order of finish in both races will help determine the rest of the starting grid for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.