Austin Dillon struck first, blazing to the Coors Light Pole for the Daytona 500 in the No. 3 Chevrolet’s return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
Dillon followed up the pole with a ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500. So far, it’s his only top 10 this season.
Kyle Larson took an opposite path to this first open weekend, and his recent counter punches have landed him atop the rookie standings.
Larson, who has won a race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season, opened his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign with a 38th-place finish because of an accident in the Daytona 500. Then, at Phoenix and Las Vegas, Larson slogged through finishes of 20th and 19th.
But since those season-opening jitters, he has turned it on, finishing in the top 10 in three of the last four races – including a runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway and a fifth at Texas.
Those three finishes – and the adjoining bonus points toward the rookie standings that go with them – have catapulted Larson to the top of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He currently has 98 points – 13 ahead of Dillon.
But … Dillon leads in overall points, thanks to few poor finishes (Larson has two finishes outside the top 25; Dillon has none).
Maybe the most interesting nugget of the bunch: If the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup started today – and, NASCAR confirms that it doesn’t – both Dillon and Larson would be part of the Chase Grid.