Dec 11, 2013, 1:28 PM EST
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.
Mar 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
Maldonado confident Lotus has made a big improvement after miserable 2014.
Mar 1, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
British driver says that sticking with #44 means far more to him than having the number designated for the world champion.
Feb 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Argentinian driver confirms his plans for the new season after a difficult 2014 with Hilmer Motorsport.
Feb 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
A full round-up from the penultimate day of F1 pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Feb 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EST
Frenchman joined the team as a test driver for the 2015 season.
Feb 28, 2015, 3:11 PM EST
Bourdais, Hawksworth, Aldo Andretti and more all have birthdays today, February 28.
Feb 28, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
Despite posting a time that, when adjusted to account for tire compounds, could be 1.4 seconds quicker than the rest of the field, the Briton was unenthused about his performance.
Feb 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
How well does Josef Newgarden dunk? Find out in video he does with Indiana Pacers “Power Pack.”
Feb 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Today was Sainz’s last run in the Toro Rosso before his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.
Feb 28, 2015, 2:15 PM EST
Danish driver reveals he received the call to say he would not be racing in F1 very late, preventing him from securing a drive elsewhere in 2015.
Feb 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Is “Focus” IndyCar-focused? No. Is it cool to have IndyCar as a part of a Will Smith movie? Definitely.
Feb 28, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
Brazilian driver finishes second on day three of the final test in Barcelona, two-tenths of a second behind pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.
Feb 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
German driver completes 234 laps in just a day and a half in Barcelona as he continues to learn about the VJM08.
Feb 28, 2015, 12:02 PM EST
British driver finishes two-tenths of a second clear of Felipe Massa on the penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Feb 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Four-time world champion will get his final test run in the new Ferrari on Sunday ahead of his grand prix debut for the team next month.
Feb 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
We wish Mario Andretti, one of the all-time greats, a happy 75th birthday.
Feb 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
Team founder John Booth is confident that the revived outfit will race in the Australian Grand Prix on March 15.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
IndyCar drivers hit several race markets for “Focus” premieres.
- Lewis Hamilton explains decision to reject #1 for 2015 0
- Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Saturday 0
- Hamilton fastest as Mercedes impresses again on day three 0
- Happy 75th birthday to one of the best ever, Mario Andretti 3
- Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Friday 0
- Rosberg quickest as Mercedes shows its hand on day two 0
- Alexander Rossi confirms return to GP2 in 2015 with Racing Engineering 3