Richard Childress Racing
Is it time for fans to see the legendary No. 3 again
February 5, 2013
Date: February 4, 2013
Authors: Jeff Gluck and Nate Ryan
Richard Childress believes if Dale Earnhardt were alive, he'd give his blessing for the return of the No. 3 he made iconic in the Sprint Cup Series.
Another legendary seven-time champion intrinsically linked to a NASCAR number also endorses the plan.
"I think it's good (for the sport)," Richard Petty said. "It was there so long and so predominant, not only with Earnhardt but Junior Johnson. There's been a bunch of people that run the number. It's really synonymous with Earnhardt. I look at it as 3 is history's number. The history is more with Earnhardt than anybody else, but it's still a Childress number. It was not a Dale Earnhardt number. He just happened to drive the car."
Earnhardt actually scored his first victory and championship in the No. 2 before becoming the 72nd driver of the No. 3, joining a Hall of Fame roster that includes Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough. Earnhardt drove the No. 3 from 1984 until his death, accounting for 67 of its 97 career victories.
No one has driven the No. 3 in Cup since February 2001, but Childress estimates fan support as roughly "85% positive" for its return. Last year, the team owner's grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, won with the number in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. The Dillons seem ticketed for NASCAR's premier series with Richard Childress Racing (perhaps as early as 2014 for Austin Dillon when Kevin Harvick departs).
"I hadn't really had any plans of putting the 3 back in Cup, but … it's kind of re-energized a lot of the fans," Childress said. "The cards and the calls and the e-mails and things we get. When we said (Austin Dillon) was going to run the 33 at Daytona, overwhelmingly people wanted to see the 3. We haven't made any decisions at this time. But the more the fans want to see it … "
There was a groundswell of support within NACAR Nation to retire the number in the wake of Earnhardt's death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Instead, NASCAR, which assigns and controls the car numbers, has allowed Childress to retain the right to field it again. Dale Earnhardt Jr. publicly has supported, comparing car numbers with "a bank you just kind of deposit history into. It don't really belong to any individual."
Nearly 12 years after the seven-time champion's final race, Childress views running the number again as a fitting tribute that would stoke memories of Earnhardt.
"One thing it does, people talk more about Dale," Childress said. "That's what I want to see. I want people to never forget who Dale Earnhardt was and the great things he did with the 3. I know he'd be proud today if he was sitting here. He'd say, 'Put Austin Dillon in there or Ty Dillon in there or Dale Jr. or whoever.' He would want to see family, and we look at those two kids as family."
Petty said keeping the number in the Childress family was important because "if he puts it off to Joe Blow driving the car, it's not going to be the same. I would imagine once his grandkids (race in Sprint Cup), he probably would bring the 3 back."
Petty has been retired since 1992, but his former No. 43 has remained a fixture in NASCAR. The number, which will be driven by Aric Almirola for Richard Petty Motorsports this year, has a NASCAR record 1,845 starts (74 more than the No. 11 currently driven by Denny Hamlin).
"The King" is happy the 43 has stuck around.
"I don't know how to express it to you, but I'm still out there," Petty said. "That still lets me be part of racing. I'm still a 43 fan. It's hard to get that out of my system."
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