The running order for the 2014 Daytona 500 was unveiled late Thursday night.
The top of the lineup had already been decided before the final announcement. Austin Dillon won the pole, while Martin Truex earned the right to start in the front row, per Daytona International Speedway:
Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin won the Budweiser Duels on Thursday to get third and fourth, respectively, in the starting grid, per NASCAR:
.@dennyhamlin takes the checkered flag, but multiple cars are involve in a last-lap wreck.— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 21, 2014
Here's the full lineup, courtesy of NASCAR.com.
|2||78||Martin Truex Jr.|
|9||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|34||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
The notable aspect of Dillon starting out on the pole is that he's doing so with the No. 3 car, made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt. It's the first time it will be on a NASCAR track since Earnhardt's crash here at Daytona in 2001, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
Austin Dillon and the No. 3 car have won the pole for the Daytona 500. It will be the 3's first Cup race since Dale Earnhardt's death in '01— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 16, 2014
The 23-year-old said that the fan reaction has mostly been positive to the switch, per FoxSports.com's Tom Jensen:
To see the fans light up at every autograph session excited, (asking) if we're going to bring it back, asking those questions ... I might hear a jeer as I'm walking away or driving away, but at autograph sessions, I've never had anybody not positive about it. If I was getting beat up every time I went to an autograph session because we were thinking about it, then it would change my mindset.
But they were so excited about, 'Man, we want to see it back, we're in support of it.' And they'd tap your (autograph) card while you're signing it and that's what you remember at autograph sessions.
Seeing the No. 3 car on a NASCAR track again is long overdue.
That's where the positivity ends, though, for Dillon, because starting on the pole is often more of a hindrance than it is a help. Dale Jarrett was the last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole position, and that was all the way back in 2000.
The size of the track and length of the race means that you can easily go from the back to the front in the space of a few laps. If anything, it's much better to start a little further back, so you can draft and plot your race strategy without worrying about holding the lead.
Somebody like Jimmie Johnson, starting in 32nd, is in a great spot. It will be interesting to see how quickly he rises up the race leaderboard and when he chooses to make his big move.
The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year, so while it doesn't impact the standings more than any other race, a win can make a driver's season. When debating the best drivers of all time, the number of Daytona 500 wins is often a talking point.
Only time will tell if Dillon can make it a storybook ending and take home the win in the No. 3, or if Johnson or someone else back in the pack will come on strong and make the trip to victory lane.