- Associated Press - Sunday, February 16, 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Five things to know about what’s going on at Daytona International Speedway in advance of the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday:


NO. 3 IS NO. 1: The iconic No. 3, the one the late Dale Earnhardt drove to 67 wins - including the 1998 Daytona 500 - and six championships, is back on top at Daytona International Speedway. Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon took the fabled number out of hibernation and to the front of the field for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Dillon won the pole for “The Great American Race” in the No. 3 Chevrolet, a car team owner Richard Childress had refused to field at NASCAR’s top level since Earnhardt’s fatal accident on the last lap of the 2001 season opener. But with his 23-year-old grandson racing in Cup series, Childress allowed Dillon to use the number widely associated with Earnhardt. “The 3’s special to all us,” Childress said. “The emotion will fly if the 3 rolls in there (to Victory Lane) on Sunday. I won’t hold it back, I promise you.” Martin Truex Jr., driving a Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing, qualified second to earn the other spot up for grabs Sunday. Truex’s engine is built by Earnhardt-Childress Racing, giving the company a sweep of the Daytona 500 front row. The rest of the field will be set Thursday with a pair of qualifying races.


FAST FORD: While Chevrolet swept the front row for the Daytona 500, rival manufacturer Ford wasn’t far behind. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were third and fourth, respectively, and Ford posted seven of the top 15 spots in pole qualifying. “The Fords are great,” Edwards said. “We weren’t very good in testing, so everybody went back and worked really hard. This has been one of the best Speedweeks, speed-wise, that we’ve had in a long time. … When we left here testing, we were 30th place or something, and they massaged on every little part of that car and I’m really proud of my guys. It’s pretty cool to have this fast of a race car.”


BURNING PACE: The pace car still has the hottest lap during Speedweeks. The Chevrolet SS pace car caught fire during the Sprint Unlimited race Saturday night. Flames could be seen shooting from the rear of the car as it sat on the apron, and the driver and passenger exited unharmed. Chevy is still investigating the cause of the fire, which was the latest bizarre thing to happen at the famed track. The list includes the pesky pothole that wreaked havoc during the 2010 Daytona 500, driver Juan Pablo Montoya slamming into a jet dryer in the 2012 Daytona 500 and last year’s last-lap crash in the Nationwide Series that injured at least 30 spectators and ripped apart a chunk of protective fencing.


DAYTONA DUD? The Daytona 500’s list of pre-race celebrities isn’t quite a star-studded lineup. The speedway named actor Chris Evans the grand marshal Sunday, calling on Captain America to kick off “The Great American Race.” Evans will give the command to “start your engines” before the Feb. 23 event. Evans stars in “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” scheduled for release April 4. He joins a pre-race lineup that includes actor Gary Sinise and singers Aloe Blacc and Luke Bryan. Sinise will serve as honorary starter, waving the green flag to start the race. Blacc will sing the national anthem. Bryan will perform a pre-race concert in the Daytona infield. None of the four has created much buzz about NASCAR’s premier event.


GOOD TO GO: NASCAR has approved a pair of high-profile, 18-year-old drivers for speedway racing. The sanctioning body gave the nod to Chase Elliott and Dylan Kwasniewski following their runs in the ARCA season opener Saturday. Elliott finished ninth, five spots ahead of pole-sitter Kwasniewski. The youngsters were required to drive the ARCA race at Daytona to gain speedway clearance, which they needed for the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona on Saturday. Elliott is the son of semi-retired NASCAR star Bill Elliott. Kwasniewski won the K&N; Pro Series West in 2012 and won the K&N; Pro Series East last year.

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