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Austin Dillon puts the number 3 back on top in NASCAR

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Qualifying was held today for the 56th Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Austin Dillon, driving the #3 DOW Chevrolet, rolled off 38th out of 49 drivers qualifying for the Great American Race, captured the Coors Light Pole Award with a qualifying lap in 45.914 seconds (196.019 mph).

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“Everybody wants to see this number perform well, and that’s what my goals are,” said Dillon. “I love getting in that race car and driving it. I think once we get through some of these races here at the beginning of the year, everything will sink in and I’ll get comfortable and be able to have some fun.”

This locks the #3 into the top spot for the first appearance of the iconic number in the Cup series since the late Dale Earnhardt had driven it in the 2001 Daytona 500 where he died in a last lap crash.

It was announced last December that the #3 Chevrolet would return to full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup car competition for the 2014 season, with Dillon behind the wheel. Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing and owner of the #3 as a driver from the 1976-1981 seasons, and car owner for six of Earnhardt’s series championships while driving the #3.

Earnhardt was the last driver of the #3 car to win a Coors Light Pole Award in August of 1996 at Watkins Glen, he also won the pole for the 1996 Daytona 500, the last time the #3 started on the pole The Great American Race. Overall this is the 4th time the #3 car has won the pole for the Daytona 500 and 67th NASCAR Sprint Cup series pole.

The first to roll out of the garage for qualifying was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran 195.211 mph for his qualifying lap, and then waited, one by one drivers went out and failed to knock Earnhardt Jr., off the top spot until Greg Biffle the 33rd driver to qualify. Earnhardt Jr., the winner of the 2004 Daytona 500, would end up 7th.

Dillon, took the top spot from Biffle, when his turn came as the 38th qualifier and was able to hold off all challenges from the remaining 11 drivers.

As the 49th and final driver to qualify, Clint Bowyer completed his two lap circuit around the track, Dillon’s grandfather, and team owner Richard Childress raised his right fist in triumph. Both Dillon and Childress were in Victory Lane for the first and only time Earnhardt earned the1998 Daytona 500 victory in the #3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet.

“We wanted to put on a good show with the 3, and I couldn’t be prouder of everybody,” said Childress. “The pressure is always on when you’ve got grandsons racing.”

With Dillon in the #3 DOW Chevrolet and Martin Truex Jr., driving the #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, both being powered with Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines, giving a 1-2 start at Daytona, was the perfect gift for the chief engine builder Danny Lawrence, whose birthday was Sunday.

“We got him a 1-2 start at Daytona, so this is pretty awesome,” said Dillon after winning the pole.

Roush Fenway teammates Biffle and Carl Edwards qualified 3rd and 4th, respectively and will start on the outside of the front row in each of their Duels, that will determine the starting order of positions 3 through 32 for the Daytona 500.

Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski were 5th and 6th, respectively during the qualifying laps.

The Daytona Duel 150 mile qualifying race will be televised on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. eastern standard time.