The No. 3 Returns with Dillon
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin on December 11, 2013 | 12:46 P.M. EST
The announcement was made at Charlotte Motor Speedway during Sprint Cup testing. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
CONCORD, N.C. - Austin Dillon will compete full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning in 2014, driving the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.
The No. 3 will be returning to the track for the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Dale Earnhardt's death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
The only way Richard Childress wanted to see the number back on the track was with family or an Earnhardt. Dillon always wanted to race the No. 3 because that's the number his grandfather - Childress - piloted when he was a driver. Dillon won both a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide championship with the '3' and will now go after Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors with it next season.
"It's the only number I've walked into the NASCAR garage and sat in," Dillon said. "My grandfather has done a great job of teaching me the way to handle certain responses and things, and I think we're going to go forward with it. I'm excited and have heard a lot of good feedback from the fans.
"This is an awesome day for me and my family. It's what you dream of when you start racing, to make it to the Cup Series one day and to be in competitive equipment. I'm thankful for my grandfather and all the opportunities (he's) given me."
Dillon and Childress reached out to a number of people for the approval, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister Kelley.
"There were a few people I wanted approval from as we went through this," Dillon said. "Dale Jr. talked to me this past week at the banquet and he's been supportive of it the whole time. He was excited for the paint scheme coming back. He's one of those guys that does his own paint schemes and different things."
The new paint schemes for Dillon's new Sprint Cup cars will feature some black in them, and will also carry the colors from sponsors Dow and Cheerios.
"It was more sponsor-driven and we wanted to be built around this instead of being solid black," Childress said about making the car different from Earnhardt's traditional black scheme. "GM Goodwrench helped us bring that car to where it was."
The No. 3 has had a long history in NASCAR and Childress himself drove it in 173 races. With the number returning to the track, Childress hopes it will teach new fans about the history of the number, especially with Earnhardt.
"There is so much heritage behind the history of the '3' with Dale Earnhardt, who made it famous," Childress said. "I drove it, Ricky Rudd drove it and several drivers drove it. Buddy Baker sitting in here drove it before us and won races with it. My hope is that the Dale Earnhardt fans will be re-energized. We're going to do our best to make them proud and I know Austin will. I think the new fans will learn more about the great Dale Earnhardt by watching this."
Gil Martin, who led Kevin Harvick to four wins and a third-place finish in the standings this season, will be Dillon's crew chief.
"Since I came to RCR, I've worn many hats and had the opportunity to be in all kinds of different situations," Martin said. "But I have to say this is probably the most excited I've been, for the simple reason that I have watched Austin since he was eight years old."
Childress is used to watching the No. 3 on the track with his grandsons Ty and Austin in the Truck and Nationwide Series, but admits there will be some emotion when Austin takes the green flag at Daytona International Speedway next year.
"I’m sure watching it when it comes by to take the green flag that first time in the 150s or qualifying, I'm sure there will be a little emotion there," Childress said. "I know in my heart today as I sit here that Dale Earnhardt is smiling down. He would want to see this."