Yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s crash here that cost his life in 2001. A statue of the Intimidator greets visitors at the Daytona USA museum on the grounds here and it was a frequently visited spot yesterday where some fans brought their flowers in remembrance of the NASCAR legend. Hard to believe he’s been gone that long and there’s no question, the sport has not been the same without him. The return of Dale’s #3 car may have sparked controversy back in January, but I can report from here that there is a palpable excitement about the number being back. Fast forward to my next set of thoughts:
Is Austin Dillon’s Richter-scale-registering Coors Light Pole victory only the beginning? If so, it’s quite an opening act. But maybe the news-making storylines will continue well after his iconic No. 3 Chevrolet leads the field to green at around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday (Live on FOX, Motor Racing Network Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Here are three reasons to think the No. 3 could end up in Victory Lane…
1) A Daytona 500 win from the pole has happened before. Not a lot, but more than any other starting position. The eventual winner has started from the pole nine times, most recently in 2000 when NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett did it. Others to accomplish the feat: Fireball Roberts (1962), Richard Petty (1966), Cale Yarborough (1968, ’84), Buddy Baker (1980), Bill Elliott (1985, ’87) and Jeff Gordon (1999). The Coors Light Pole is the most prolific starting spot in Daytona 500 history. Starting positions Nos. 2 and 4 are second, with seven wins apiece.
2) Records are made to be broken – and Dillon already has snapped one. In winning the pole on Sunday, Dillon became the youngest pole winner in Daytona 500 history at 23 years, 9 months, 20 days. If he wins the Daytona 500, he’d also be the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender to do so. (Note: Though Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in only his second start in 2011, he was not registered for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award competition).
3) Dillon’s no slouch at Daytona. In four NASCAR Nationwide Series starts there, Dillon has finished in the top five in three of them. This is Dillon’s second Daytona 500 start; the first came last year in the No. 33, when he finished 31st. Likewise, Dillon’s crew chief is no Daytona slouch, either. Last year, with driver Kevin Harvick, Martin won two of his three starts during Speedweeks, and finished third in the July Daytona race.