Like it or not, the No. 3 is back. The reality of Austin Dillon making the move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2014 to drive a Chevrolet donning the No. 3 for grandfather Richard Childress is a fact that has been pretty much known by fans, the NASCAR media, and others for quite awhile as, perhaps, one of the worst kept secrets in NASCAR in recent years. It all became reality, though, on Wednesday with a press conference and car unveling at Charlotte Motor Speedway during testing.
Since the secret leaked months ago, some fans have seemed to have a hard time stomaching the return of the No. 3. The official announcement on Wednesday may have just been enough to send many of them running to the medicine cabinet for some antacid after being hit with the reality of the iconic number’s return.
Not everyone is against the return of the No. 3. Heck, not all Dale Earnhardt fans are against it. But there are many fans who are, though. Are those fans being realistic? Reasonable?
The No. 3 is just that, a number. Yes, drivers are often associated with a specific number, especially if they race with it for most of their careers. And the No. 3 did become iconically tied to Earnhardt, just as the No. 43 often symbolizes fellow-NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty. But did that number really belong to Earnhardt, and was it his number and his number only?
Another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Junior Johnson, competed as a driver at NASCAR’s top level in a No. 3 car. Then, Richard Childress kind of took over the number, first as an owner/driver, then as an owner. That number’s been associated with Childress in some capacity or another at least since the 1960s. And it’s Childress and his grandson who are bringing it back to Sprint Cup racing.
Other critics of the No. 3′s return say that if it’s brought back, Dale Earnhardt Jr. should drive the car since it was his dad’s number. If memory serves me correctly, I think Earnhardt Jr. said several years ago that he didn’t want to drive it.
To me, it seems the No. 3 is just as much, if not more so, a symbol of Childress family legacy as Earnhardt family legacy. So why shouldn’t Childress be allowed to carry on the tradition within his own family, especially since the one Earnhardt family member competing at NASCAR’s top level doesn’t want to use it?
Of course there are also haters who just hate the fact that one of the Dillon boys is going to be driving the car. Those folks just have an issue with Austin and his brother, Ty, and that’s a totally different topic of conversation for another time.
Fact of the matter is, the No. 3 is back — like it or not.
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Below, is a gallery of images from Wednesday’s announcement (photos provided by Getty Images for NASCAR):