Whitesburg KY

Childress brings ‘3’ back



What had to be the worst kept secret in all of NASCAR this season was finally announced last week when Richard Childress made it official that he would be bringing the No. 3 back to the Sprint Cup Series, and that his grandson Austin Dillon would be behind the wheel.

It will be the first time the number will take the green flag to start a Cup race since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Fans will always associate car numbers with certain drivers and owners, but it is NASCAR that actually owns the numbers and it is the sanctioning body that gives the numbers to the owners. An owner can request a certain number that isn’t presently being used and NASCAR in most cases will honor those requests, but in the case of the No. 3, NASCAR kept the number with Childress out of respect for both the owner and Earnhardt Sr.

Immediately following Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal crash, Childress went to NASCAR and requested another number to put on the car that would be driven by Kevin Harvick. He ended up with the No. 29 because that was the closest number to that of his other car. Childress also changed the color of the car from black to white and since that time the sport has not seen a car resembling what Earnhardt Sr. used to dominate the sport.

The decision on when and if to bring the number back to the sport has always been left up to Childress. His recent decision in no way dishonors the memory of Earnhardt Sr. Childress first brought the number back in the Camping World Truck Series and later the Nationwide Series with Dillon, but not before going to Dale Jr. and his sister Kelley to make sure the family supported the decision.

Dillon has won championships with the number and he definitely knows the history behind the iconic, slanted No. 3. It is this success that Childress has had with his grandson and the number that makes this the right time to bring the “3” back to the track. Childress has always said the only way he would bring the number back to the Cup Series was that either an Earnhardt or a member of the Childress be behind the wheel.

I for one agree with the decision to bring the number back to the sport. There will be no dishonor to Earnhardt Sr. when the car is rolled out of the back of the hauler when the season gets underway at Daytona in February. Instead, you can’t help but think there will be a celebration by the legion of fans that followed every lap that Earnhardt Sr. ran on his way to a record-tying seven series championships.

In the 12 years after the untimely death of Earnhardt Sr., his fans have not had that real connection on the track back to days when their driver was showing the rest of the sport why he was referred to as the Intimidator. Now, all of that is set to change when the No. 3 once again takes the green flag to begin a race, and it will be all right because Austin Dillon was and is part of the No. 3 family.

The car and number will be a tribute to Dale Earnhardt Sr. when it gets on the track. I know that the first time I see it, in my mind it will be a Richard Childress Racing car and that I will no doubt have a memory of Dale Sr. I would expect to see a lot of fans of the Intimidator pull out some of those black No. 3 shirts and hats they have been saving and once again start wearing them.

The new No. 3 will be a celebration of the man who once told Childress that he had to keep racing if something happened to him. It is the right time to bring the number back, for not only the memory of Dale Sr., but also for Childress and the memories and success he has had with the number.

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