Dec 11, 2013, 1:28 PM EDT
As a young boy growing up, I watched a lot of NASCAR on Sunday afternoons and I always pulled for Dale Earnhardt in the famous Richard Childress Racing No. 3 car.
I suppose I was drawn to the whole attitude that both he and that number represented – a tough, determined and strong attitude, no matter the obstacles they faced on the track.
When you’re a 13-year-old boy, you’re subconsciously looking for things you can emulate and the whole “never give up” mystique that Earnhardt and the No. 3 had was something I latched on to. I’m sure millions more felt the same way as I did, and for a much longer time as well.
It’s been 12 years since we lost the seven-time Sprint Cup champion at the 2001 Daytona 500, and with that sad event, the No. 3 also disappeared from NASCAR’s top series. It seemed like that was the right thing.
For so many people, Earnhardt was their knight and the No. 3 was the crest he carried into battle every weekend across the short tracks and superspeedways of the land.
But now, another knight has emerged to bring that crest back.
To the credit of Childress, he has maintained his promise that only a member of either his or Earnhardt’s family would race the No. 3 again in Sprint Cup. And so, the number has now been passed to 23-year-old Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson and the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” Dillon said today at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Everybody knows who made this number famous. With my grandfather and their friendship, they were able to build something great that will never be touched.
“But we feel like that bringing it back…It’s going to be special. I feel like we’ve put in a lot of hard work and effort and the shop, and we’re prepared for everything that’s to come.”
As for Childress, he knows that today’s news won’t go over well with some of the more fervent fans in NASCAR’s base that either believe the No. 3 should not be used again or that Dillon is somehow not worthy of it.
But in his mind, he believes that Dillon will be up to the challenge – and that Earnhardt would be happy to see the No. 3 hit the track again.
“I know in my heart today, as I sit here, [that] Dale Earnhardt is smiling down,” said Childress. “He would want to see this 3 [on-track]. He didn’t ever want to see this go away.
“I felt it was the thing to do right after Daytona, and I know today that he’s accepting this highly. I knew him that well.”
Both Austin and his brother, Ty, have raced the No. 3 in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series in recent years, and Austin has won titles in both of those categories while carrying it on the side of his machine.
Now, he’ll carry it as he sets out to claim Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. But perhaps more importantly, he’s also setting out to create his own stellar legacy with the No. 3.
And that’s something everyone needs to let him do. NASCAR Nation will surely be tempted to compare Dillon to Earnhardt, but at this point in time especially, such comparisons are utterly ridiculous to make.
Dillon currently has just 13 Cup starts under his belt and will need time to find his way in the series. A situation such as this will always bring pressure – and that’s something Dillon has accepted whole-heartedly – but to heap an inordinate amount of that on his shoulders is not doing him any favors.
This much needs to be recognized: Dillon will never be “The Intimidator.” His tale will be different. But it’s his to write, and with the talent he has shown through the Trucks and in Nationwide, he’s got an opportunity to make it great in the years ahead.
After all, Dillon is one of just a handful of drivers to have won titles in two of the three NASCAR national series. No one has ever won titles in all three of them.
And something tells me that if Dillon ever wins a Cup title in the No. 3, all of this talk about how he’s not deserving of that number will disappear for good.
“It would mean the world to me,” Dillon said of possibly becoming a Cup champion in the future. “That’s what you set your goal as: To be a Cup champion one day…From being a little kid, that’s what you want to do is run at this level and then have a chance at a championship.
“I believe RCR will give us every ounce of effort we need to win championships, and we’ll build on our experience and look forward to that.”
In the meantime, we need to take a step back, resist snap judgments, and let his story be written.
May 23, 2015, 6:04 AM EDT
Vettel storms to P1, throwing Ferrari’s hat into the ring for pole position later today.
May 23, 2015, 4:45 AM EDT
After Thursday’s washout, FP3 becomes all the more important in Monaco.
May 22, 2015, 3:39 PM EDT
Tristan Vautier recaps a roller coaster month of May, where he’ll have a last-minute opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500 with Dale Coyne Racing.
May 22, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
A third straight feature race win for Stoffel Vandoorne sees him extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship.
May 22, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT
Harvey scores the win in Indy Lights’ biggest race of the year.
May 22, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Force India’s deputy team principal lashes out at the F1 Strategy Group, calls for a return to autocratic rule by the FIA and the F1 Group.
May 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Bids to supply tires to F1 upon the next change to the technical regulations now being taken.
May 22, 2015, 12:06 PM EDT
Notes as they develop from the ground in Indianapolis for Carb Day for the 99th Indianapolis 500.
May 22, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Bianchi remains in a coma in French hospital after sustaining severe head injuries at the Japanese Grand Prix last October.
May 22, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
The team owner would like the season’s calendar expanded.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Watch Carb Day IndyCar and Indy Lights coverage, from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
May 22, 2015, 9:08 AM EDT
Still A LOT of stuff to watch for on Carb Day for the Verizon IndyCar Series, LIVE from 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
May 22, 2015, 8:22 AM EDT
Carb Day at IMS: always one of the busiest days of the year.
May 21, 2015, 11:51 PM EDT
In a bizarre and truly 11th hour circumstance, Tristan Vautier appears set to replace Carlos Huertas in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
May 21, 2015, 5:57 PM EDT
Oriol Servia says a connecting rod was removed that might have prevented the part from piercing the tub and critically injuring driver.
May 21, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
American driver claims his second pole position in GP2 with a mesmerising display in Monaco on Thursday.
May 21, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
The No. 5 beyond Indy 500 could be Daly, Wilson, or A.N. Other.
May 21, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Daniel Abt confirmed to be remaining with his family team for season two of the Formula E series.
May 21, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT
Boston confirmed for 2016 and beyond in IndyCar.
May 21, 2015, 3:33 PM EDT
SPM takes four of the top five spots on the Indy Lights grid.
- Vettel fastest for Ferrari in final practice for Monaco GP 0
- Chip Ganassi lobbying for IndyCar schedule changes 0
- What to watch for: IndyCar, Indy Lights Carb Day (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra) 0
- IndyCar driver raises concern about design of wishbone that injured James Hinchcliffe in crash 4
- F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO) 0
- Hamilton tops quiet second Monaco GP practice 0
- Hamilton quickest in opening practice for Monaco GP 0