The No. 3 car is up front in the Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway again.
Austin Dillon will start on the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500 in the No. 3 car after a lap of 196.019 MPH. It's the first time the No. 3 has been driven in the Cup Series since Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Dillon, 23, is the grandson of Richard Childress, Earnhardt's long-time car owner. Dillon, who has driven for his grandfather in his entire NASCAR career, started driving the No. 3 in 2009 when he made his Camping World Truck Series debut. For the past two seasons, he's driven the No. 3 in the Nationwide Series and won the 2013 Nationwide Series championship.
However, in what will be his 14th start in the Cup Series, it's his first in Earnhardt's famed No. 3.
The number became synonymous with Earnhardt, who won 67 of his 76 Cup wins with the number as well as six of his seven championships. And Daytona became synonymous with Earnhardt, who was exceptional at the track despite a 19 race winless streak in the 500, NASCAR's biggest race.
In 1990, Earnhardt led 155 of the race's 200 laps and was leading on the final lap when he cut a tire in turn four. He finished fifth as Derrike Cope won. In 1993, he was passed by Dale Jarrett on the final corner. He was second again in 1995 and 1996.
He finally won the Daytona 500 in his 20th attempt in 1998, his only 500 win. In addition to two wins in the July Daytona race, Earnhardt won 12 Daytona 500 qualifying races (known now as the Budweiser Duels) and six Busch Clash events (now known as the Sprint Unlimited). He also won the pole for the 500 in 1996.
In 2001, Earnhardt was third on the final lap, trailing the cars of Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who were driving for Earnhardt's team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. However, he and Ken Schrader crashed in the middle of turns three and four and Earnhardt's car hit head-on with the outside wall. He was pronounced dead just after 5 p.m. ET from a basilar he sustained in the crash. In October of that year, NASCAR made head and neck restraints mandatory for all drivers. Earnhardt was not wearing one in February.
When Kevin Harvick replaced Earnhardt the next week, the car's number was switched to the No. 29, the number Harvick drove at RCR through 2013. After the season, Harvick left for Stewart-Haas Racing, giving Dillon and Childress the opportunity to bring the No. 3 back in 2014.
Dillon will start next to Martin Truex Jr., who qualified second for Furniture Row Racing. Only Dillon and Truex have their starting positions guaranteed for Sunday's race. The remaining 47 drivers entered will fill out the 41 spots left in the race on Thursday evening in the Duels.
Danica Patrick, last year's pole qualifier, wound up 25th. Her engine expired during practice Saturday, so she must start at the rear of the field for both her Budweiser Duel and the Daytona 500.
- - - - - - -