Minter: The No. 3 Is Making News Once Again
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Some Thursday Observations:
* The news this week about Austin Dillon entering the Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway in a No. 3 Chevy brought to mind a visit to 311 Speedway in Madison, N.C., a few years back.
Then, as now, there was great interest in what it would take for Richard Childress to bring back the car number made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt. Since Earnhardt’s death, Childress has not fielded a No. 3 on the Cup circuit, explaining that it would take a special situation to put the number back on one of his NASCAR racers.
Many in the sport have figured that the only way that number would return would be for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be doing the driving. But that night, the fans in attendance at 311, got a sneak preview of another option.
Dillon, Childress’ oldest grandson, drove a black No. 3 in his dirt Late Model debut.
With Childress watching from atop the hauler, the same perch he often occupies at Cup races, young Dillon drove like a veteran, broad-sliding the car through every turn and running wheel to wheel with the local veterans.
I asked Childress about the car numbers on the sides of his grandsons’ cars. He said his younger grandson Ty chose No. 21, the one his father Mike Dillon used during his driving days in the old Busch Series. Austin, he said, wanted to run his grandfather’s number.
“I said, ‘Austin, my number was 3,” Childress said. “He said, ‘I know. I want to run your number.’”
Childress made it clear that night that the origin of the famous number pre-dates the Intimidator.
“Although Earnhardt made it famous, that’s the same number and the same style that I ran when I was driving in the ‘70s, all the way up to ’81,” he said.
And as anyone who has been around “Pop Pop” Childress and his grandsons knows, he finds it hard to tell the boys no, so the No. 3 has returned to the tracks, at least on the short tracks and in developmental series.
But soon there may come a time when Childress has to decide whether to field a Cup car with Earnhardt’s old number on the door. The odds are good that he’ll do it.
“I think it has to be a special deal to bring back the No. 3, and to me this is a special deal,” Childress said that night in the dusty pit area of 311 Speedway.
* During a recent visit to Atlanta, Dale Earnhardt Jr. expressed his feelings about the expected departure of Brad Keselowski from the team that Earnhardt and Rick Hendrick field in the Nationwide Series. That day, Earnhardt sounded more like a proud papa than a car owner who was losing a promising young driver. (As expected, Keselowski signed on to race a Cup car for Roger Penske next season.)
“I’m standing here holding the trophy I always wanted out of that deal, and that was to take somebody and help turn them into a race driver that gets the opportunity to race in the Cup series,” Earnhardt said. “That’s what we’ve done with Brad. I feel as if we’ve succeeded at what I chalked up on the screen as our ultimate goal.”
* NASCAR’s substance abuse policy appears to be second only to the economy in reducing the sport’s work force.
By most counts, the list of crew members suspended for violations of its drug policy has reached double digits this year. Three more, including one member of the No. 6 Ford team on the Sprint Cup circuit, were indefinitely suspended this week.
Matt Kenseth, like many others in the sport, seems surprised at the frequency of the suspensions.
“I don’t know if there’s a wider problem than we thought when you look at all the people that are involved,” he said, adding that the bright side is that the garage is being rid of some people who don’t deserve to be there. “I think if you can clean up the garage, give the people who re ally want to work hard (and) take it serious, the opportunity to be here, that’s a good thing.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments