Austin Dillon will lead off the tightly packed and contested start of the NASCAR season during the Daytona 500 on Sunday from Daytona International Speedway.
The 23-year-old emerging Richard Childress Racing star picked up the first pole victory of his career earlier this week, and begins his second NASCAR season. Last year he earned one victory in Kentucky.
However, winning the pole hasn’t equaled a victory in quite some time. Dale Jarrett was the last driver to take both the pole and the checkered flag back in 2000. Jeff Gordon did it in 1999 and before him only five other drivers had the completed feat, including Fireball Roberts (1962), Richard Petty (1966), Carl Yarborough (1970, 1984), Buddy Baker (1980) and Bill Elliott (1985, 1987).
Along with Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt of Swan Racing, Dillon headlines seven rookies making their Daytona debut, and he’ll reportedly drive the No. 3 car that had been retired since the death of legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. 13 years ago in Daytona.
Defending Daytona and Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson looks to repeat his winning performance from a year ago when he led for 17 laps and began his sixth straight Chase title run.
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Starting in the 32nd slot on Sunday, Johnson has won NASCAR’s premier event twice before, including last year and 2006, and taken the pole two other times. No driver has won two straight times at Daytona since Sterling Martin in 1995.
Fresh off early wins in the Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel 2 last week and seeking his first Daytona victory, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will start in the fourth slot.
The starting grid can be found below.
TV Channel: FOX
Start Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
Prediction: Hamlin has started the off the season well, and should take his first Daytona victory.
2.Martin Truex Jr.
9.Dale Earnhardt Jr.
21. Tony Stewart
34.Ricky Stenhouse Jr.