Skip to content

Austin Dillon intends to honor Dale Earnhardt’s legacy and keep his memory alive in No. 3 car

Feb 13, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT

U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by Enlist Weed Control System Getty Images

Austin Dillon has been preparing for Feb. 23 for pretty much his entire racing life.

Not only will he kick off the start of his first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series that day in the 56th Daytona 500, Dillon more importantly will bring back the legendary No. 3 onto the Cup racing scene.

It was 13 years ago that Dale Earnhardt last raced the No. 3, tragically killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 season-opening Daytona 500. No other driver has competed in the Cup series in the No. 3 since then.

Dillon is the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, for whom Earnhardt won six of his seven Cup championships driving the No. 3.

To his credit, Dillon has gone out of his way to tell media, fans and pretty much anyone else that will listen that he’s not trying to step into Earnhardt’s shoes, nor is he trying to discredit Earnhardt’s famous racing number.

“Dale was so important in driving that number,” Dillon said at Thursday’s NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. “He was the guy that made that number what it is today. But Dale Earnhardt is Dale Earnhardt not only because of the number, but because he was a hero and created so many things for this sport.  The number for me, hopefully I can continue the legacy that it has and keep on moving on with it.”

Dillon has driven the No. 3 in various forms of racing that he’s competed in, including winning the Camping World Truck Series in 2011 and the Nationwide Series championship last season – both coming in rides that sported the infamous number on the doors and hood.

In a sense, even though the No. 3 was Earnhardt’s number in Sprint Cup, it’s also been Dillon’s number throughout his career for nearly 20 years, ever since he got behind the wheel of a go-kart 20 years ago.

Admittedly, Dillon did initially give thought to perhaps not driving the No. 3 once he reached the pinnacle of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup division.

“There’s always thoughts of it,” he said. “I feel like you go through times, and you don’t know what to go through.  My family, RCR (Richard Childress Racing), all the people there around us, hearing it from Dale Jr. (who gave Dillon his blessing to drive the No. 3) and people like that, is very influential I feel like to where we’re at today.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve looked at other numbers and stuff, too.  It wasn’t like, ‘That’s the number I want to run. Bam, bam, that’s how I was going to do it or nothing.’ We were very respectful in the fact it was up to my grandfather and the people that were around that number the longest.

“So I’m not a kid that says, ‘Hey, this is what I want, this is what I’m going to get.’ I’ve never been that way. Hopefully, I’m never portrayed that way. I’m a very respectful person and look to the history of the sport. I feel fortunate I’m getting this opportunity, though.”

Among other numbers Dillon considered at one point or other were the 21, 2 and 41 – all of which are taken by Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick this season – and even the 33, as an alternative to the No. 3, much like Dale Earnhardt Jr. transitioned from the No. 8 while driving at Dale Earnhardt Inc., to the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Even though Earnhardt left us 13 years ago, his image remains ever-present in the sport, particularly around Daytona with fans still having stickers or wearing clothing to honor their fallen hero. Even in death, Earnhardt merchandise remains a hot seller at souvenir stands and stores.

“The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever,” Dillon said.  “Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number.  He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody’s mind, including myself.  Dale is going to fly here forever.  That’s the coolest thing about everything that’s going on.”

Earnhardt’s mother, Martha, said in a nationally televised interview Wednesday that she had ‘mixed feelings’ about seeing the No. 3 back on the track.

Dillon understands those feelings and is doing everything he can to honor Dale Earnhardt’s memory and legacy.

“The biggest thing is being respectful to all the family that is involved and also just taking this opportunity and hoping that fans are embracing it the right way,” Dillon said. “We’re trying to continue the legacy of the No. 3.  I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.

“I think we respect everything that the Earnhardt family has to say.  Dale Jr. and everybody has been very supportive of it.  It’s been a good thing so far.  Everything’s been great.  Just continue to move on with what we’re going with.

“I think there was something about the number and the color.  That is one thing my grandfather said from the beginning, that we weren’t going to have it black.  So luckily the Cheerios car and Dow, everybody, our sponsors, have some black in the color with their sponsor, exactly not a percentage that’s more than 50 percent.  I think the most we’ve got on a paint scheme is 60 percent.  That is one thing.  But we’re definitely respectful and going to keep it color sensitive.”

Fans are expected to honor the return of the three on race day, most likely extending three fingers on the third lap in Earnhardt’s memory. And while Dillon knows there will be some who will forever consider it sacrilege that the No. 3 is back racing, he hopes those critics will at least give him a chance to honor the number and Earnhardt with his performance.

“Everybody’s got their own opinion,” Dillon said. “I feel like hopefully we can win them over as time goes on. That’s all you can do.

“Hopefully they’re open enough to take a look at everything that we’re doing. I think as far as performance and moving forward, hopefully we can win them over.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. It’s official: Marcos Ambrose will return to Australia to race V8 Supercars for Roger Penske

    Sep 14, 2014, 8:52 PM EDT

    Marcos Ambrose (left), along with NASCAR president Mike Helton. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — One day after announcing he would not be returning to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015, Marcos Ambrose made it official that he’s going home to his native Australia to and race in the V8 Supercars series for Roger Penske.

  2. Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tangle in wreck at Chicago — but it’s all good

    Sep 14, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT

    (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. – Oh, how we’d love to be a bug on the wall when Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. get home after Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

  3. Jeff Gordon makes strong ‘Drive For Five’ start, also has high praise for Kyle Larson in Chase opener

    Sep 14, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT

    (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

    JOLIET, Ill. – In the first race of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon took the first step in his “Drive For Five” – and put his best foot forward.

  4. How the 16 drivers fared in Sunday’s Chase opener

    Sep 14, 2014, 6:17 PM EDT

    (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. – Sunday’s opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup was good for 12 of the 16 contestants, as they dominated the top-15 finishers in the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. But four others struggled and find themselves in a hole heading into the second race of the Chase.

  5. Keselowski surges between Harvick, Larson to win Chase opener at Chicagoland

    Sep 14, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    (Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — While Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick were jousting for the lead, Keselowski slipped up in-between them and then sailed right through with 15 laps left to win Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400, the opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway.

  6. Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon lead Chase opener at halfway point

    Sep 14, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT

    keselowski joliet 2014 Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. – With 134 of the scheduled 267 laps complete, Brad Keselowski leads the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

  7. Even with new crew, Kevin Harvick’s pit road problems continue

    Sep 14, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Harvick pit crew richmond 2014 Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — Kevin Harvick made a celebrated trade of pit crews with Tony Stewart for Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 due to numerous mistakes and errors committed by his pit crew during the first 26 races of the regular season. Unfortunately, Harvick’s pit road jinx continued with the new crew.

  8. For 16 Sprint Cup drivers, the time is here: ready, set, Chase

    Sep 14, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT

    Sprint Cup trophy 2014 Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — If Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 plays out the way folks in the garage were talking Sunday morning, there’s going to be at least a few surprises both in the course of the race and potentially in the outcome in the opening event of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

  9. Kyle Busch starts Truck race ticked-off, only to end up in victory lane at Chicagoland

    Sep 13, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

    (Photo: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. – A ticked-off Kyle Busch is the most dangerous kind of Kyle Busch. Dejected after coming up short in the Nationwide Series race earlier in the afternoon, the younger Busch brother rallied back to win Saturday night’s Lucas Oil 225 Camping World Truck Series race.

  10. Joey Logano: ‘We’re ready’ to win Sprint Cup championship

    Sep 13, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT

    (Photo: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — Joey Logano is ready to go from wanna-be champion to doing the real thing in this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

  11. DeJoria (FC), Enders-Stevens (PS), Todd (TF) and Krawiec (PSM) are the ones to beat in NHRA race in Charlotte

    Sep 13, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    Alexis DeJoria is No. 1 at Charlotte heading into Sunday's eliminations. (Photo courtesy NHRA) Alexis DeJoria is No. 1 at Charlotte heading into Sunday's eliminations. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

    Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), J.R. Todd (Top Fuel) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will enter Sunday’s Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals as the No. 1 qualifiers at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

  12. Kevin Harvick outsmarts Kyle Busch, earns third career NNS win at Chicagoland Speedway

    Sep 13, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT

    (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. – What looked like yet another almost certain Kyle Busch win on Saturday literally went up in smoke, as Kevin Harvick rallied to earn his third career Nationwide Series victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

  13. Kyle Busch ready to claim his ‘second’ Sprint Cup championship

    Sep 13, 2014, 5:26 PM EDT

    (Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. – Kyle Busch believes he can win his ‘second’ Sprint Cup championship in 2014. Wait a minute, when did he win his first? Did we miss something somewhere?

  14. Carl Edwards leads final Sprint Cup practice, Keselowski up to speed, Danica 5th-fastest

    Sep 13, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    Kesewlowski Chicagoland 2014 Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — Carl Edwards was fastest in Saturday’s Sprint Cup happy hour practice, but Brad Keselowski was the bigger story, finding the speed he’s been lacking up to now. Also, Danica Patrick was fifth-fastest.

  15. Marcos Ambrose decision to leave RPM, NASCAR due to family, desire to return to Australia

    Sep 13, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT

    marcos ambrose chicagoland 2014 Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — Marcos Ambrose cited being homesick for his native Australia as well as family concerns as the main reasons he’s leaving Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR at the end of this season.

  16. Brian Scott holds off Ryan Blaney to earn 3rd NNS pole of season

    Sep 13, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT

    (Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — Shortly after Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard posted the fastest speed in Saturday morning’s Sprint Cup practice, teammate Brian Scott went out and earned the pole for Saturday afternoon’s Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

  17. Romain Grosjean hopeful of points at Singapore GP

    Sep 13, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Germany - Qualifying Getty Images

    Frenchman is confident that Lotus will be in better shape than it was at Monza.

  18. Sprint Cup practice speeds slower Saturday morning at Chicagoland, Paul Menard tops at 188.772 mph

    Sep 13, 2014, 12:23 PM EDT

    paul menard richmond 2 2014 Getty Images

    JOLIET, Ill. — Paul Menard shot to the top of the speed charts during the first of two practice sessions for the Sprint Cup drivers Saturday morning at Chicagoland Speedway.

  19. Roberto Merhi dominates Formula Renault 3.5 race in Hungary

    Sep 13, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    © Renault Sport © Renault Sport

    Spaniard dominates at the Hungaroring, strengthening his case for an F1 seat with Caterham.

Video from NASCAR America

Johnson's quest for a record 7th title
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. Johnson (1816)
  2. K. Busch (1341)
  3. J. Gordon (1206)
  4. J. Logano (1204)
  5. D. Suarez (1126)