Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The famed No. 3 made a grand return to the Sprint Cup Series, with rookie Austin Dillon driving the car to a pole win for the Feb. 23 season-opening Daytona 500.
Dillon, the 23-year-old grandson of NASCAR multi-team owner Richard Childress and last year's champion in the Nationwide Series, became the fifth rookie driver to win the pole for the Daytona 500 in the 56-year history of NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season. Dillon grabbed his first career Sprint Cup pole with a lap at 196.019 mph during Sunday's time trials at Daytona International Speedway.
"I love getting in that race car and driving it," Dillon said. "I think once we get through some of these races here at the beginning of the year, everything will sink in. I'll get comfortable and be able to have some fun."
It was the first time the No. 3 car, made famous by Dale Earnhardt, had been on the racetrack for competition in NASCAR's premier series since the 2001 Daytona 500 when Earnhardt was killed in an accident during the final lap. Richard Childress Racing changed the number of that car from 3 to 29, with Kevin Harvick driving the 29 until the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Earnhardt claimed six of his seven Cup championships and won 67 of his 76 races, including the 1998 Daytona 500, while driving the No. 3 for Childress.
Harvick moved from RCR to Stewart-Haas Racing, while Dillon elevated from Nationwide to take over driving duties in the No. 3 in Sprint Cup. Dillon is one of eight drivers competing for the rookie title in the series this year.
"Everybody wants to see this [car] number perform well, and that's what my goal is to stay focused," Dillon said. "It's hard to celebrate because this is just qualifying. But it's great for these guys [No. 3 RCR team]. Luckily, I didn't mess it up. We knew that we had a fast car."
Dillon's win in time trials marks the fourth time the No. 3 car sits on the pole for the Daytona 500. Buddy Baker first accomplished the feat in 1969. Ricky Rudd did it in 1983, and Earnhardt did so in 1996.
Other drivers who won the Daytona 500 pole during their rookie seasons include: Loy Allen Jr. (1994), Mike Skinner (1997), Jimmie Johnson (2002) and Danica Patrick (2013).
Martin Truex Jr., in his first season as driver of the No. 78 car for Furniture Row Racing, secured the second starting spot for the Daytona 500 with a lap at 195.892 mph. This will be the second time Truex starts on the front row for this race. He won the pole for it in 2009.
"Yeah, front row, that is what we are here for today," Truex said. "Can't say enough about this team. What a great job. I think we've got about seven miles on this car. One run yesterday [Daytona 500 qualifying practice], no testing down here. Really excited about the rest of Speedweeks."
Dillon and Truex are the only drivers who have locked up their starting positions. The engines in both drivers' Chevrolets are built by Earnhardt- Childress Racing.
"I couldn't be prouder for Austin and [crew chief] Gil [Martin] and all the guys who worked so hard this winter to come down here and run good," Childress said. "We wanted to put on a good showing with the 3. Having another ECR engine with Furniture Row on the outside, that makes us all proud."
The remainder of the 43-car field for the Daytona 500 will be determined in Thursday night's twin-qualifying races -- The Budweiser Duel -- at Daytona.
Greg Biffle, in a Ford, placed third in time trials, followed by his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards. Ryan Newman, who now drives the No. 31 car for Childress, was fifth.
Sixth through 10th were: Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was the first driver to make a qualifying run in the 49-car field, Jeff Gordon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard, also from RCR.
Patrick, who became the first female to win the pole for the Daytona 500 last year, finished 25th in time trials with a lap at 194.380 mph. On Saturday, Patrick, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte experienced engine failure during practice. Patrick and Stewart from Stewart-Haas Racing and Labonte from HScott Motorsports use Hendrick Motorsports engines. Due to engine changes, all three drivers will have to start from the rear of the field in the Budweiser Duel and the Daytona 500.
"It's definitely disappointing that we're starting from the back in not only the Duel but the Daytona 500 as well," Patrick said. "I don't understand it, but it's what I have to do."
Results from Daytona 500 time trials:
1. Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet) 45.914 secs., 196.019 mph
2. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Chevrolet) 45.953 secs., 195.892 mph
3. Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford) 45.961 secs., 195.818 mph
4. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford) 45.986 secs., 195.712 mph
5. Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet) 45.987 secs., 195.707 mph
6. Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford) 46.084 secs., 195.296 mph
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet) 46.104 secs., 195.211 mph
8. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet) 46.144 secs., 195.042 mph
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Ford) 46.153 secs., 195.004 mph
10. Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet) 46.173 secs., 194.919 mph
11. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Ford) 46.179 secs., 194.894 mph
12. Brian Scott (No. 33 Chevrolet) 46.207 secs., 194.776 mph
13. Aric Almirola (No. 43 Ford) 46.235 secs., 194.658 mph
14. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet) 46.240 secs., 194.637 mph
15. Joey Logano (No. 22 Ford) 46.253 secs., 194.582 mph
16. Casey Mears (No. 13 Chevrolet) 46.253 secs., 194.582 mph
17. Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota) 46.255 secs., 194.574 mph
18. Michael Annett (No. 7 Chevrolet) 46.255 secs., 194.574 mph
19. Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet) 46.262 secs., 194.544 mph
20. Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota) 46.267 secs., 194.523 mph
21. Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota) 46.272 secs., 194.502 mph
22. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota) 46.278 secs., 194.477 mph
23. Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Chevrolet) 46.291 secs., 194.422 mph
24. Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet) 46.294 secs., 194.410 mph
25. Danica Patrick (No. 10 Chevrolet) 46.301 secs., 194.380 mph
26. Trevor Bayne (No. 21 Ford) 46.312 secs., 194.334 mph
27. A.J. Allmendinger (No. 47 Chevrolet) 46.366 secs., 194.108 mph
28. Kurt Busch (No. 41 Chevrolet) 46.373 secs., 194.078 mph
29. Reed Sorenson (No. 36 Chevrolet) 46.376 secs., 194.066 mph
30. Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Chevrolet) 46.436 secs., 193.815 mph
31. David Gilliland (No. 38 Ford) 46.455 secs., 193.736 mph
32. Landon Cassill (No. 40 Chevrolet) 46.456 secs., 193.732 mph
33. Parker Kligerman (No. 30 Toyota) 46.489 secs., 193.594 mph
34. Michael Waltrip (No. 66 Toyota) 46.529 secs., 193.428 mph
35. Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet) 46.544 secs., 193.365 mph
36. Eric McClure (No. 35 Ford) 46.655 secs., 192.905 mph
37. Brian Vickers (No. 55 Toyota) 46.681 secs., 192.798 mph
38. Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chevrolet) 46.706 secs., 192.695 mph
39. Cole Whitt (No. 26 Toyota) 46.744 secs., 192.538 mph
40. David Ragan (No. 34 Ford) 46.795 secs., 192.328 mph
41. Michael McDowell (No. 95 Ford) 46.804 secs., 192.291 mph
42. Terry Labonte (No. 32 Ford) 46.842 secs., 192.135 mph
43. Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford) 46.860 secs., 192.061 mph
44. Bobby Labonte (No. 52 Chevrolet) 46.999 secs., 191.493 mph
45. Joe Nemechek (No. 87 Toyota) 47.249 secs., 190.480 mph
46. Ryan Truex (No. 83 Toyota) 47.282 secs., 190.347 mph
47. Alex Bowman (No. 23 Toyota) 47.447 secs., 189.685 mph
48. Morgan Shepherd (No. 93 Toyota) 47.483 secs., 189.542 mph
49. Dave Blaney (No. 77 Ford) No Time, No Speed