Jr. Fits In No. 3
October 27, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
OK, it's really NASCAR's No. 3, but for the time being Richard Childress Racing, through an agreement with NASCAR, is hanging on to the number until a reasonable settlement can be worked out with all parties.
Despite NASCAR actually owning the number – the sanctioning body licenses them to teams - the No. 3 will for the time being be synonymous with the late seven-time Winston Cup champion, who died in a last-lap crash during February's Daytona 500.
Since then, one of the nagging questions around Childress' team and among all Earnhardt fans has been what to do with the No. 3.
The answers, inevitably, come down to:
A) Retiring the number
B) Letting another Childress driver field a car with the No. 3
C) Giving it back to NASCAR to do with it what it pleases.
NASCAR officials have said all along that they just do not retire numbers.
Other sports do retire numbers, although the situation is very different. It's easy, for instance, for the N.Y. Jets to retire one or a handful of numbers and still have enough left over for the 50-plus man roster.
Likewise, if the Jets retire the No. 3, it does not impact every other team in the league.
On the other hand, if NASCAR shelves a number, it removes it as an option for everyone.
Frankly, it would be hard to imagine another Childress driver or another non-Earnhardt driver bearing the No. 3. Surely, this thinking is a little hard headed, but for the timing being, and that's when we're living, it just doesn't seem right.
Kevin Harvick, the man who has successfully stepped into Earnhardt's cars and become a winner - and a leader - is building a following in the No. 29, so it would seem silly to also force him to bear the burden of carrying the No. 3.
Really, the guy has gone through enough simply sliding into the same cockpit where Earnhardt once called home, that asking him to drive the No. 3 seems a little cruel.
Throughout this sometimes harrowing process of carrying on, there's always been a question of whether or not Dale Earnhardt Jr. should use the number.
As the world knows, he drives the Budweiser No. 8 Chevrolet, and has become successful in his own right. The number also has a family connection, as it was his grandfather's number way back when.
Initially, it seemed odd to ask Dale Jr. to carry the No. 3, but now it doesn't seem so weird.
He's picked up the mantle in some ways as a driver - Jeff Gordon said as much following last Sunday's race at Talladega. And now it makes sense for him to switch to the No. 3, as well.
Earnhardt Jr. says he doesn’t want the No. 3 retired, an though he states he’d like to remain in the No. 8, would he really fight a switch?
The folks at Daytona International Speedway this week revealed he's going to enter the Busch Series race there in February, and his car will be adorned with the No. 3.
Surely, one could argue he's done fine with the No. 8 and even created his own identity with the car. And, there's the argument that Budweiser has invested in licenses and marketing items with the No. 8 and any switch would make those already produced items useless.
Frankly, those are weak arguments not to make the switch.
From a financial standpoint, anything with the No. 8 would become worth more money on the collectible front. Likewise, anything with the new No. 3 would be of interest, as well.
But there's more going on here than money.
Dale Jr. carried the No. 8 because it was a family number. As an official with Dale Earnhardt Inc., he could then move the number to another DEI car and keep it in the Earnhardt stable. Give up the No. 1, for example.
Childress could free up the No. 3 to be acquired by DEI, giving the corporation access to both numbers, with the No. 3 going on the red Budweiser cars drivin by Dale Jr.
Naysayers, of course, argue other drivers have passed on and their numbers have become part of the regular mix. That's true, but it also doesn't really matter now.
Ten years, two decades, three decades from now, sure, it will be unlikely that the No. 3 would be so closely connected with a driver of the past. But we're living now. We need to react now.
And Dale Jr. carrying the No. 3 at next year's Daytona 500 would be a wonderful thing to do.
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