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.
Aug 22, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
The Bowtie has won the IndyCar manufacturer’s title in all three seasons since returning to North American open-wheel racing in 2012.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:54 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon looked like he had the pole for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. But Kevin Harvick had other ideas.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
At 7-feet tall, ESPN NASCAR analyst, team co-owner and former NBA star Brad Daugherty is a formidable presence. He’s also known to play a practical joke every now and then.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Unpredictable weather conditions have impacted the Food City 500 in its March spot, which the event has had since the 2005 season.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will be officially presented on Tuesday, August 26 at 5 p.m. ET on a special 60-minute edition of NASCAR AMERICA.
Aug 22, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
“Rowdy” earns the pole for tonight’s Food City 300 with a lap of 125.142 miles per hour in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT
Former NASCAR Nationwide Series team owner Ed Whitaker passed away Friday at his home in Bristol, Va., business associate Peter Laura told the Bristol Herald Courier.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:04 PM EDT
In statement, Alexander Rossi takes the high road after missing out on Grand Prix debut with Marussia in Spa.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
Late in the 50-minute session, the Roush Fenway Racing driver zipped around the half-mile oval at 131.048 mph in the No. 17 Ford Fusion.
Aug 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Here’s today’s round-up from the paddock at Spa-Francorchamps.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
In the year of the power unit, Spa is rewarding the Mercedes-powered teams.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
Russian GP3 debutante Konstantin Tereschenko goes for a wild ride at Spa, but mercifully emerges unscathed.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver turns a lap of 131.083 mph around the high-banked half-mile to lead Friday’s first practice session.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
As good as he may be, is Max Verstappen too young to be racing up against drivers twice his age?
Aug 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Son of ex-racer Jos set to become the youngest ever F1 driver next season at the age of 17.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
At 13th on the Chase Grid with three regular season races left, the former Sprint Cup champion isn’t feeling the need to choose between going for a win or having a good points day.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Mercedes once again dominated practice, finishing first and second in both sessions on Friday at Spa.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Lotus being punished by Spa’s high-speed nature.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:22 AM EDT
Without IndyCar on track on Friday, Friday will be an abnormal day on track at Sonoma Raceway.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
When he’s not racing in Red Bull Global Rallycross, Scott Speed shows Kristen Kenney the way around a golf course.
Video from NASCAR America
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