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The First Reid: Dillon's 500 pole should've been expected

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

Cynics and conspiracy theorists doubtless will have a field day with this year's Daytona 500 qualifying.

After all, the best potential storyline of the weekend played out as though it had been perfectly scripted.

But, no, don't expect any major exposes of Austin Dillon's pole-winning run in Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying. The historic return of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing actually was part of a larger story, namely the excellent offseason work of RCR and its affiliated teams.

Martin Truex Jr., with an RCR chassis and engine, qualified second, 39 thousandths of a second behind Dillon. RCR driver Ryan Newman, in his first Daytona 500 time trail for the organization, ran fifth. Paul Menard qualified 10th, Brian Scott 12th and Casey Mears 16th.

The RCR cars were fast in Preseason Thunder testing, and they were fast again this week. Clearly, the symbiotic relationship with customer organizations such as Furniture Row, Germain Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing has added to the critical mass of RCR's efforts.

"We've been doing a lot of work with our technical partners, and that just makes us all stronger," team owner Richard Childress told reporters after the qualifying session.

Childress approaches the 2014 season with justifiable optimism. As engine builder Danny Lawrence put it, "We're very prepared and ready to go."

Yes, Dillon's pole run is a great story.

But a conspiracy?

Hardly.

So move along now ... nothing to see here.

@nascarcasm

---After a six-month rehabilitation, Tony Stewart made his return to Sprint Cup competition this weekend, and had no issues with his titanium-reinforced leg. He was fast all weekend -- with the exception of getting through the metal detector at the airport.

---Many drivers told reporters that the racing was somewhat out of control during the Sprint Unlimited -- a statement reinforced by drivers telling this to reporters well before the race had concluded.

---The big takeaway from the Sprint Unlimited? Denny Hamlin's back. Not as in "his back" -- his back is healed. We mean's he's BACK, as in ... never mind, this has devolved into an Abbott & Costello routine.

---And congratulations to young Austin Dillon, who claimed the Daytona 500 pole Sunday in the No. 3 car. The pole set off a glut of conspiracy theories on social media, some so far-fetched that even Oliver Stone was overheard saying "WOW -- this is, like, WAY out there."

(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter and also on FOXsports.com. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you already knew that.)

NASCAR NUMBERS

2: Number of Sprint Unlimited victories for Denny Hamlin, who dominated Saturday night's race. In 2005, Hamlin earned a surprise entry for the 2006 version of the Unlimited after winning a pole at Phoenix International Raceway in his sixth attempt at qualifying for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota then won the 2006 Unlimited as a Cup rookie.

7: The start time for Thursday night's Budweiser Duel at Daytona, the two 150-mile qualifying races that will solidify the starting lineup for the Feb. 23 Daytona 500. For the first time, the Duel races will be run under the lights.

9: The number of former Daytona 500 winners who entered this year's edition of NASCAR's most prestigious race. It's a short list that includes Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999, 2005); Michael Waltrip (2001, 2003); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004); Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013); Kevin Harvick (2007); Ryan Newman (2008); Matt Kenseth (2009, 2012); Jamie McMurray (2010); and Trevor Bayne (2011).

17: The number of years between Daytona 500 poles for the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. The late Dale Earnhardt won his only pole for the Great American Race in 1996, After Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 running of the event, the No. 3 remained inactive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series until Childress' grandson, Austin Dillon, began his first full season in the series with a Daytona 500 pole.

72: The age of Morgan Shepherd, who is attempting to become the oldest driver to start the Daytona 500. Shepherd made his Sprint Cup debut at Hickory on June 20, 1970, driving the No. 93 Chevrolet owned by Bill Flowers. The 93 also is the number of the Toyota he's in for BK Racing.

Setting The Daytona 500 Grid: A Primer

---The two fastest qualifiers set starting positions one and two. Those were decided on Sunday, with Austin Dillon winning the Coors Light Pole and Martin Truex Jr. earning starting position No. 2.

---The highest 15 finishers in each Duel race -- excluding the already locked-in front row -- will earn spots in the Daytona 500, filling positions 3-32.

---Based on their finishing position in the first Duel race, the top 15 line up on the inside row (odd-number starting positions).

---Based on their finishing position in the second Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the outside row (even-number starting positions).

---Positions 33-36 go to the four fastest cars from qualifying that have not already earned a spot.

---Positions 37-42 are provisional positions and go to the highest six cars in 2013 owner points that have not already qualified via the Duel or Coors Light Pole qualifying.

---The 43rd starting position will be assigned to any car owner who has the most recent eligible past Sprint Cup champion who did not make the field by any other method, providing the driver competed in the 2013 Sprint Cup season. If the 43rd spot remains unused it will be assigned to the next highest car in 2013 owner points not already locked into the field.

NASCAR ETC.

---On Sunday, Austin Dillon created a tidal wave of news, putting the iconic No. 3 car on the Coors Light Pole. The No. 3 car last raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2001, and hadn't been on the track in the series since Dale Earnhardt's fatal wreck on the final lap of that year's Daytona 500. In winning the pole, Dillon became the fourth driver to win the pole for the Daytona 500 while driving the No. 3 car, joining Buddy Baker (1969), Ricky Rudd (1983) and Dale Earnhardt (1996). ... The pack is back - big time. Tight quarters led to a bevy of wrecks during last Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway - only eight cars were running at the finish, the fewest since seven in 1981. ... Jimmie Johnson last year added his name -- again -- to an illustrious list of drivers who have won multiple Daytona 500s. Ten drivers have no done it, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (seven wins), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three) and Dale Jarrett (three). Come Sunday, Johnson hopes to join an even more exclusive group. Only three drivers have won back-to-back Daytona 500s: Petty (1973-74), Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95). ... Eight rookies will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 via one of Thursday night's two Duel races. It's the largest rookie since 1994.

Tune-In: NASCAR On Television, Week of Feb. 17-23 (all times ET)

Monday, Feb. 17

2 p.m., The Sprint Unlimited re-air, FOX Sports 1

4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

7:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1 on 1: Jimmie Johnson, FOX Sports 2

8 p.m., The Day: Daytona Primetime, FOX Sports 2

9 p.m., Return of the 3, FOX Sports 2

Tuesday, Feb. 18

2:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Noon, NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1

7 p.m., NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race, FOX Sports 2

8:30 p.m., NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Race, FOX Sports 2

11 p.m., NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Race re-air, FOX Sports 1

2 a.m. (Wed.), 1998 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

3 a.m. (Wed.), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Wednesday, Feb. 19

9 a.m., 1993 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

11 a.m., 2007 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

1 p.m., 1997 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

1:30 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

2:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

3 p.m., 1999 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

4 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

5:30 p.m., NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race re-air, FOX Sports 1

6:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

Thursday, Feb. 20

11 a.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

Noon, NASCAR Nationwide Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

1 p.m., 1981 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

1:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

3 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

3 p.m., 1983 Daytona 500, ESPN Classic

4:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, FOX Sports 1

6 p.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1

7 p.m., Budweiser Duel, FOX Sports 1

Friday, Feb. 21

1:30 a.m., NASCAR Now, ESPN2

6 a.m., Budweiser Duel re-air, FOX Sports 2

11 a.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

11:30 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

1 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Qualifying, ESPN2

2:30 p.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Practice, FOX Sports 1

4 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FOX Sports 1

5:30 p.m., NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1

6:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Setup, FOX Sports 1

7:30 p.m., NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race, FOX Sports 1

Saturday, Feb. 22

12 a.m., Budweiser Duel re-air, FOX Sports 2

1 a.m., Wendell Scott: A Race Story, ESPN Classic

2:30 a.m. (Sat.), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

9 a.m., NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race at New Smyrna, FOX Sports 1

10 a.m., NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice, FOX Sports 1

Noon, NASCAR Countdown, ESPN

1:15 p.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Race at Daytona, ESPN

5 p.m., The Day: Daytona Primetime, FOX Sports 2

6 p.m., Return of the 3, FOX Sports 2

7 p.m., FOX Sports 1 on 1: Jimmie Johnson, FOX Sports 2

8 p.m., DAYTONA 500 BASH AT THE BEACH, FOX

10:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final Practice re-air, FOX Sports 2

11 p.m., Return of the 3, FOX Sports 1

Sunday, Feb. 23

3:30 a.m., NASCAR Nationwide Series Race re-air, ESPN2

10 a.m., SportsCenter Special, ESPN2

10 a.m., Daytona 500 Bash at the Beach, FOX Sports 1

11 a.m., NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1

12 p.m., Pre-Race Show, FOX

1 p.m., Daytona 500, FOX

1 p.m., Daytona 500, FOX Deportes

5 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

10 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

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