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That includes pole-sitter Austin Dillon, who will lead the field to green in the No. 3 made famous by the late Earnhardt. The number has not been used at Daytona in a Cup race since The Intimidator’s fatal accident on the final lap of the 2001 race, but car owner Richard Childress was finally ready to use it again as his 23-year-old grandson moved to NASCAR’s top level.

Childress has no hesitation in seeing the 3 on the track, and believes strongly that Dillon has given Richard Childress Racing a much-needed boost.

“I know in my heart, today, as I sit here, Dale Earnhardt is smiling down,” Childress said. “He would want to see this 3. He didn’t want it to ever go away. But I felt it was the thing to do right after Daytona, and I know today that he’s accepting this highly. I knew him that well.”

RCR threw itself into preparations for the 500, evidenced not only by Dillon’s pole-winning run but how Earnhardt-Childress engines put five cars in the top 12 during qualifying and swept the front row with Dillon and Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr.

But Truex’s car was wrecked on the last lap of Thursday’s qualifying race when defending race winner Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas. It cost him his starting spot.

“It stinks for the guys who have worked so hard on that car, and have a great race car, only to have that happen on the last corner of the last lap,” Truex said.

He won’t be alone in the back of the field as many heavyweights will start at the rear of the field.

Stewart, who will be in his first points race since breaking his leg in August, will drop to the back because of an unapproved engine change. So will his teammate Danica Patrick, last year’s pole-winner.

Johnson, who has wrecked two cars this Speedweeks, will drop to the back, along with Clint Bowyer, who flipped his car when Johnson ran out of gas.

Greg Biffle believes the veterans in the back of the field will wait until the it’s time to make the right moves to the front.

“I think the people that are starting in the back, for the most part, will be happy to live there for a third, if not two-thirds of the race,” Biffle said. “And then the moon is gonna go full, the eyes are gonna get a stare on them, the jaw will get set and the knuckles will get white. And all bets are off.”