The Iconic No. 3 Has Its Place In NASCAR Sprint Cup Competition

The "stylized" No. 3 that was attached to Dale Earnhardt for so many years has yet to return to NASCAR Sprint Cup after his death in 2001. Some fans say it should never be restored.

Few topics are more polarizing in NASCAR today than what Richard Childress should do with his No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series.

Fueled by strong, emphatic emotion, the No. 3 can rarely be discussed without passion.

There are usually two camps:  One distinctly in favor of retiring the number from competition and one comfortable with its return to Sprint Cup.

Those vehemently against seeing the RCR No. 3 car in competition feel the number is synonymous with Dale Earnhardt. They believe that when Earnhardt died, at Daytona in 2001, the era of the No. 3 car ended.

Earnhardt made the No. 3 iconic.

To see the No. 3 on the track in first, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and, currently, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is disturbing to many. They are uncomfortable with their hero’s number in competition when he is not the driver.

Like the No. 99 of the National Hockey League’s Wayne Gretzky or a long roster of numbers in Major League Baseball, there are legions of fans who feel Earnhardt’s No. 3 should be retired lest anybody forget him and his accomplishments.

They feel no driver is worthy of strapping into a race car with the number that so prominently identifies Earnhardt.

There are those fans, however, which feel differently. They may have reverence for Earnhardt, but understand that a number is not the driver.

Some fans are old-timers who have been NASCAR supporters for several decades. They recall a time before Earnhardt occupied the No. 3. Others are newer fans that may never have seen “The Intimidator” drive.

These fans either have a respect for the history of the sport and the fact that Earnhardt was a profoundly important part of it, or simply do not have an emotional attachment and do not feel the need to see the No. 3 retired.

My favorite part of being a columnist is being able to express my opinion openly.

I have made it clear that I had one favorite driver in all my years of watching NASCAR and that was Earnhardt. When he died, as part of my grieving process I walked away from the sport for many years.

I’ve watched programs about Earnhardt, talked about him and written about him a lot over the years and will continue to do so. He is a large part of my NASCAR fabric and I feel his absence daily.

My stance about the No. 3 in Cup competition may surprise some, but I think I can back up my position fairly.

While I consider writing and talking about NASCAR as my job, it is also my passion. I listen to podcasts, radio shows, and read myriad articles on the subject.

Recently, Richard Childress was heard on several programs discussing the future of the No. 3, the number he “owns” and has used since 1976.

Childress understands the emotional attachment people have with the “stylized No. 3” that Earnhardt ran. He is sensitive to the legion of fans who still worship Earnhardt and thus, by association, the No. 3.

But Childress has been doing an awful lot of interviews concerning grandson Austin Dillon’s use of the number and his team’s intentions when it enters the Cup Series.

The No. 3 Chevrolet, with Earnhardt aboard, began its NASCAR journey over three decades ago and for years featured Wrangler as the sponsor.

The No. 3 was brought back to NASCAR in 2009 after a hiatus following Earnhardt’s death – save the one time Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove it in a Nationwide race in 2002. Dillon started using the number in Iowa in the truck series and by 2010 ran the number full time on that circuit.

In 2010 Dillon won rookie of the year honors in the NCWTS. In 2011 he became the series champion.

This year Dillon is running in the Nationwide Series with the No. 3.

So why is Dillon granted permission to run the No. 3 in both the NCWTS and the NNS? It is because he is Childress’ grandson. NASCAR is rich with legacies. Among Childress’ legacies is a race team for his grandson.

When Childress was asked earlier this year if the No. 3 would ever be used by Dillon in Sprint Cup, he replied, “I never say never.”

Childress does emphasize that it is the “stylized No. 3” that everyone associates with Earnhardt.

In a different interview posted on the Jayski website, Childress reminisced: “Dale had his picture taken with Austin (and Ty Dillon) in victory lane in the 1998 Daytona 500.”

His point is that Earnhardt adored grandson Dillon and would be very proud of the driver he has become.

Later in the Jayski interview Childress recounted, “Many people drove the No. 3 car throughout history.”

Also quoted on the same Jayski program was a fantastic sound byte by Earnhardt Jr.

Eloquent and thoughtful, Earnhardt Jr. said, “(The No. 3 car) is like a bank where you deposit history.”

Clearly Earnhardt Jr. has no issue with the possibility of the No. 3 car running in Cup, especially with Dillon as the driver.

Earnhardt Jr. does admit Dillon would have a rough road to navigate in terms of fans’ reactions to the No. 3 in Cup, but, personally, he is fine with the situation.

My opinion is Dillon should run the No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series. NASCAR has no history of retiring numbers.

Childress has created an amazing legacy for his grandson – grandsons when Ty is included – that he should be proud to carry into the next generation.

Even Earnhardt Jr., arguably the one man who could drive the No. 3 whom fans of all mindsets might possibly accept, feels Dillon has every right to drive the car bearing that number.

When Earnhardt was alive he began procuring a legacy for his own family in the form of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. That organization provided a ride for Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt Jr.’s grandfather, the late Ralph Earnhardt, drove the No. 8. That was the number fit for the grandson. That was Dale Jr.’s legacy, not the No. 3.

I believe Earnhardt would be fine should Dillon create a new chapter for the No. 3 car. What would upset Earnhardt is that his son doesn’t run the No. 8 – not that Childress’ grandson wants to drive the No. 3 in Cup.

Dillon is the only driver I can see making his Cup debut in a No. 3 car. Actually, I’m all for it and hope it happens in the near future.

That’s my opinion. I’m interested in yours.


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