In one of the most memorable moments in NASCAR qualifying history, Richard Childress Racing driver and Sprint Cup Series rookie Austin Dillon and the No. 3 car won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500 with a time of 45.914 seconds.
Dillon will start the Daytona 500 in the No. 1 position and will drive the No. 3 car at the sport’s top level for the first time since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. It was an emotional moment for everyone, as Motor Racing Network’s Dustin Long showcased:
Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer shared the rarity of his accomplishment:
Joining him on the front row will be driver Martin Truex Jr., who earned the No. 2 starting spot with his qualifying time of 45.953 with an RCR motor in his Furniture Row Racing No. 78.
|2014 Daytona Qualifying Top 10 Order|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||45.953|
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||46.104|
|9||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||46.153|
|49||Dave Blaney (Did not start)||---|
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 car started the qualifying session as the first car to make his two-lap run. Junior made a fast pass with a time of 46.104 seconds at an impressive speed of 195.211. He held the top spot until Greg Biffle and the No. 16 car bested his time.
Biffle was on the top of the charts with a time of 45.961 until Dillon took the No. 1 spot.
Another contender that hit the track early was 2013 Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick. She ran a respectable time of 46.301, but was not on the same level as the leaders that eventually took the top spots.
Patrick had blown an engine before Sunday’s qualifying—she will have to start at the back of the pack in Daytona’s 500-mile main event—and told Jeff Owens of Sporting News about the concerns heading into the remainder of race weekend:
It was a concern when Tony blew up, and then we did. It’s something we’re doing in our family, I guess, and we need to figure it out. I’m sure the Hendrick teams are wondering what is going on.
Long commented on Patrick’s stance on being forced to start at the back of the field:
Now that the qualifying is settled, it’s time to start getting to the real heart of the racing at Daytona. Thursday marks the beginning of NASCAR action as the two Budweiser Duels take place on Thursday at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ET respectively.
The top drivers know how important it is to start toward the front in the Daytona 500, and the Sprint Cup veterans will contend for the wins in the duel races.
While the top two spots determined by qualifying will start on the inside and outside pole positions, the results of the duel races will settle the remainder of the starting order for the Daytona 500 on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
When it comes to Sunday's main event, the unpredictable nature of the racing and the carnage that comes with frequent crashes at the incredibly fast track makes this anyone's race to win.
NASCAR starts the season with its Super Bowl, and this is a race fans can’t afford to miss.
*All stats and information via NASCAR.com.