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The No. 3 Will Be Right Where Earnhardt Wanted

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 28 2014

Richard Childress said the decision to bring back the No. 3 was made a long time ago. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Fourteen years ago Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt sat in a car one rainy day and discussed how they would bring the famous No. 3 back to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit after the seven-time champion retired. The two men decided it would only return on a car driven by a family member.

This year, the plan mapped out that day is becoming reality with Austin Dillon, Childress’ older grandson. True, Childress’ two grandsons have run the number their grandfather used on his car in the 1970s in NASCAR’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. However, it hasn’t been used in the Cup series since Feb. 18, 2001; the day Earnhardt lost his life on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Childress admitted Tuesday it would be special for him when he walks onto pit road the morning of the Daytona 500 and sees his grandson’s No. 3 Chevrolet sitting on the grid.

“I’ve been watching the 3 run with Austin and Ty both in the Nationwide and the Truck series and it’s been special, but that decision to bring the 3 back, it’s going to be really neat to see it out there that morning when I walk out there,” Childress said on the second day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I watched it test in Daytona and that was really neat.

“The only reason we’re bringing this number back is because it’s family and it’s something we wanted to do. That decision was actually made 14 years ago when Dale and I were talking about his retirement, what he was going to do when he retired and how he wanted to help me with the 3 and the team to go out and put a driver in it that could win championships and win races. It was not in the plans to put anyone in the car until the right person was there. Yeah, if Dale Jr. would have wanted to do it or Kelley Earnhardt or Kerry and now Jeffrey; it would be an Earnhardt or one of my family (members) would get in that 3 car.”

Childress and Dillon said there have been fans who have not agreed with their decision, but they hoped to win them over.

“We want the young fans to understand the legacy of Dale Earnhardt,” Childress said. “Hopefully, this will give them a thought. I’ve had young drivers come to me and tell me they can’t wait to race with that 3 because they didn’t get a chance to race with Dale. We’re looking at the positive and that’s the way you have to look at life.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dillon agreed with Childress that reviving the number would teach new fans about the stellar driver they never knew.

“Younger kids that weren’t around during that era, the number coming back gives them the opportunity to learn about Dale,” Dillon said. “I don’t get tired of talking about it because I realize what it is to people. I realize all of the fans care about it. I want to remember Dale, too. I think it’s good to remember the 3, what it created and the pressure with it. I’m fine with that.”

Earnhardt Jr. said it was “a great time” to bring back the No. 3. He also noted Dillon had used that number his entire life and it meant something to him beyond its history with his father.

“I know he’ll do a good job,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He’s very respectful and will add to the heritage and the history.”

Dillon said the number was “very special” because Earnhardt created so much of the history associated with it. However, he noted he’d always used it, even when he played baseball, because it was his grandfather’s number.

“It was never an issue,” Dillon said. “Walking into the garage it’s just the number I walk to.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, January 28 2014
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  • NASCARJeff says:

    I cannot wait to see the 3 come off of turn for and during the Daytona 500, I have been waiting for that to happen since 2001.

    Way to go RC!