Support Building for the '3' to Return
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 8, 2013 | 2:03 P.M. EST
While Richard Childress isn’t ready to say the iconic number will be back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001, Childress has expressed an openness to bringing the No. 3 back with grandson Austin Dillon. (Photo: Getty Images)
See Also: Gas 'N' Go: Bring Back the 3?
When NASCAR returns to Daytona International Speedway in February, the main topic won’t be about the defending champion or Danica Patrick but the No. 3.
While Richard Childress isn’t ready to say the iconic number will be back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001, Childress has expressed an openness to bringing the No. 3 back with grandson Austin Dillon.
“We’re considering it, and I think Austin is ready,’’ Childress said before Saturday night’s race at Daytona. “Do we put it together? I don’t know if it’s the right time yet.’’
What would make it the right time?
“A lot of conversations (with) me and Austin,’’ Childress said.
Even so, it would be surprising if the No. 3 car wasn’t in Cup next year with Dillon.
Former champion Darrell Waltrip says it’s time for fans to see the No. 3 again in NASCAR’s top series.
“It was OK to sort of have a moratorium,’’ Waltrip said. “That was to honor Dale, and we’ve done that. I think it’s time to relive some of those great moments. When I see that 3 car and I see it in action and I see Austin out there diving in and out of traffic, it’s going to bring back some great memories and things that Dale did. Those Dillon kids are humble kids. They respect the sport and they understand the importance of that number.’’
While Earnhardt made the number famous, others have won with it, including Hall of Famers David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker and Fireball Roberts. Childress, a Hall of Fame nominee, drove the No. 3 from 1976-81 with the team he owned. Car numbers are assigned by NASCAR to car owners.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the idea of Dillon running the No. 3 next year will be great.
“This sport doesn’t really retire numbers and all the numbers have history tied to them for several different reasons,’’ Earnhardt Jr. said. “The No. 3 is no different. (Dillon) drove the No. 3 in dirt racing, and he drove the No. 3 in his Truck series and Nationwide series. He has earned the right to run that number as long as he wants.
“It’s not really fair to deny somebody that opportunity. I’m OK with it. I know that might not be the way a lot of people feel or some people feel, but I’m sure it’s the minority that feels that way. I think that a lot of people will be telling Austin positive things about it.”
Even when someone else runs the No. 3 car, the memories of Earnhardt with that number will remain. He won six of his record-tying seven championships with that number and Childress as his car owner. It was with that number that he won the 1998 Daytona 500, breaking his drought in that race.
Joey Logano, who was 10 years old when Earnhardt died, admits that “it would be cool to see (the No. 3) back out there.’’
He remembers what it was like to see Earnhardt drive that car number in a 2010 Nationwide race at Daytona.
“I thought when Junior ran the Wrangler car, unfortunately he beat me ... but besides that, it was cool to see that car out there,’’ Logano said.
Jeff Burton, who drives for Childress, said he backs his owner in whatever Childress decides.
“He knows the relationship he and Dale had,’’ Burton said. “He knows what Dale would feel about it. He knows right from wrong. If Richard feels good about it, then I feel good about it because I don’t think there is anybody in the world that is more qualified to answer if it’s correct or not to run that 3 than Richard.’’