It's the fourth time the No. 3 has won the pole for the Daytona 500. Buddy Baker did it in 1969, Ricky Rudd in 1983 and Earnhardt in 1996.
But this one was emotional all the way through RCR, which had its ups-and-downs in performance in the 13 years since Earnhardt's death. Now Dillon comes in at another changing of the guard, as Kevin Harvick, the driver who slid into Earnhardt's seat the week after his death, has moved to another team.
Engine builder Danny Lawrence, who made his debut with the company at the 1998 Daytona 500 with Earnhardt, said the company ran on adrenaline after Earnhardt's death. Dillon has now given the organization a shot in the arm.
"On the sentimental side, I was really pretty good about this 3 thing," Lawrence said. "But when I saw that car hit the race track today, it kind of tore me up a little bit. Austin is such a good guy, he has been great for our company."
Said Childress: "The energy that he brings to our whole organization is huge. He's been in the shop so long, him and his brother, Ty. I can remember Dale pushing them around on a creeper down there in the garage when they were just little babies, so that's how far they go back."
Martin Truex Jr., driving a Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing, qualified second with a lap at 195.852 mph. Truex's engine is built by Earnhardt-Childress Racing, giving the company a sweep of the Daytona 500 front row.
"Obviously without that thing under the hood, we wouldn't be where we are," said Truex, who won the Daytona 500 pole in 2009 with an ECR engine when he drove for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
"Got a pretty good track record of qualifying here with an ECR engine under the hood, and obviously they're building some big power.