With the 2019 season serving as the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing, we plan to dip into the archives to present the stories of iconic moments, race wins, championships and much more as part of our weekly Throwback Thursday series.
When the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series season rolled into Daytona International Speedway for the Speedweeks, Richard Childress Racing showed up with a young rookie driver piloting one of the most iconic numbers in the sport’s history.
Coming off his first NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, third-generation driver Austin Dillon made the move to the Cup Series and did so by bringing the No. 3 back to the track for the first time since 2001.
At just 23 years old, Dillon carried the responsibility with pride and competitiveness that carried on the legacy of those that drove the number before him.
“I’m honored to be in the 3. This is special and walking into this Cup garage this weekend is pretty cool,” Dillon said at the outset of Speedweeks. “There are so many heroes in this garage for me, and just being in this garage is going to be pressure. So, I don’t think there’s any — there’s some more added with the 3, obviously — because it’s coming back for the first time in a long time. But it’s been here four years now. And I’m comfortable when I walk in the garage and jump in the seat. It’s been fun so far. Just excited about getting this season started.”
That rookie season kicked off in one of the biggest ways possible, sending a message to the NASCAR community that Dillon and the RCR team meant business.
On Feb. 16, 2014, Dillon and his team – led by crew chief Gil Martin – prepared for the biggest qualifying session of the season. Rolling off 38th of 49 cars, Dillon put the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet on the provisional pole with a lap of 45.914 seconds.
While the initial celebrations took place, the team had to wait as 11 cars were left to make qualifying efforts – including teammate Ryan Newman and ECR Engine affiliate Martin Truex Jr.
In the end, Dillon’s time stood firm and the No. 3 Chevrolet returned the NASCAR Cup Series in the best way possible, atop the leaderboard.
“You just try and stay focused. Everybody wants to see this number perform well. That’s what my goals are is to stay focused. I know this is just qualifying, but it is great for these guys,” Dillon said after climbing from the car.
“You never know when you will be standing in this position again. So, it is awesome,” he said. “I just want to thank our family back at home at RCR. They’ve done such a good job. The fab shop, the engine shop, everybody. My guys; it is all them. Luckily, I didn’t mess it up. We knew we had a fast car. We came down here and we brought it back.”
The pole was RCR’s sixth pole award in the Daytona 500, with Dillon joining the likes of Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt, Mike Skinner, Jeff Green and Jeff Burton.
“Today I just tried to keep my focuses on qualifying the car, obviously, and having my ‑‑ you’ve got to have those blinders because you want to stay focused and run well because that’s what it’s going to take to ‑‑ you want to perform with the No. 3, and everybody wants to see it perform, and that’s why my grandfather is always concerned,” said Dillon. “You want to go out there and run well.”
— RCR (@RCRracing) February 16, 2014
The qualifying effort was also a statement for ECR Engines, which was led at the time by Danny Lawrence. Truex Jr. qualified on the outside of the front row, showing the preparation and effort that went into generating horsepower for the most important qualifying session of the season.
While it was a strong showing for ECR Engines, the longtime RCR crew member could not help but get emotional seeing the familiar number back on the track in a successful way.
“It takes every little thing to be able to do what we did today, so it’s not just one person. Austin did a great job. Everybody just puts it together,” said Lawrence. “You know, really on the sentimental side, I’ve really been pretty good about this 3 thing, and when I saw that car hit the racetrack today, it kind of tore me up a little bit, but I’ve got to tell you, Austin is such a good guy that he has been great for our company.”
Lawrence was not the only one to feel emotional seeing the No. 3 back atop the scoring pylon. Childress, who first ran the number in 1976, summed up his feelings while talking with the media after his grandson’s pole-winning run.
“You know, the 3 is special to all of us,” said Childress.
“The family, the Earnhardt family to every one of us, but I think it’s special because Austin, our family is in the car,” he said. “You know, the emotion will fly if the 3 rolls in there on Sunday. I won’t hold it back, I promise.”
— RCR (@RCRracing) February 17, 2014