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.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:50 PM EDT
In a surprisingly candid admission, six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson says that while nothing is imminent, the day is coming when he and crew chief Chad Knaus will go their separate ways.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT
In a bemusing video released Thursday, NASCAR star Kevin Harvick spent one of his recent off nights working the room at an Outback Steakhouse.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
On Thursday, Jeff Gordon delivered the one millionth meal served by one of Gordon’s key sponsors, the Drive To End Hunger.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:26 PM EDT
Jimmy Prock, who resigned earlier this week as crew chief for 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, has been hired by rival Don Schumacher Racing.
Jeff Gordon would love to return to Saturday Night Live — and wants to bring Ricky Funck with him (video)
Oct 24, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
Jeff Gordon said Friday he wants to return to host Saturday Night Live for a second time — and he wants to reprise the hysterical “Ricky Funck” character.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:37 PM EDT
A loose car and two brushes with the wall has put Kevin Harvick in a deep hole at the start of Sunday’s Eliminator Round opener.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT
If racing at Martinsville Speedway was like buying an ice cream cone, Jamie McMurray double-dipped during Friday’s Sprint Cup qualifying, earning the pole and setting a new track speed record (99.905 mph) in the process.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT
Both Blaney and Wallace are within 30 points of championship leader Matt Crafton going into tomorrow’s Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
A fifth win at Martinsville would put Hamlin into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead.
Oct 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Danica, who will swap CCs with teammate Kurt Busch starting next week at Texas, says she’s looking forward to working with the engineering-based Daniel Knost.
Oct 24, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
GT/GTS races confirmed for split in 2015 by the Pirelli World Challenge series.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT
Gordon leads group of four Chasers in Top 5 speeds; all 8 remaining Chasers within Top 15.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Formula 1’s new technical regulations prompted Lotus to use a twin-tusk nose for 2014, but this could be scrapped for next season.
Oct 24, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
The reigning Sprint Cup champion moves forward.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
Bernie Ecclestone allows the team to miss the next two races as it searches for a buyer.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Deputy team boss Federico Gastaldi says the team is close to finalizing its drive line-up, with Grosjean in pole position for the seat.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
A win for Kenseth this Sunday would also put him into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead next month.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi will make an appearance at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas next week as part of a COTA fan experience.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Ricciardo full of praise for Austin and the Circuit of the Americas ahead of next weekend’s race.
The man behind the sculptures: William Behrends’ presence endures for Borg-Warner Trophy, and Giants legends
Oct 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT
Statues outside AT&T Park and the faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy share a common thread, in sculptor William Behrends.
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