If and when Austin Dillon drives the No. 3 Sprint Cup Chevrolet for the first time since Dale Earnhardt was killed in it in the 2001 Daytona 500, he’ll not only have grandfather Richard Childress’s blessing – he’ll also have Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s, as well.
“I think it will be great,” Junior said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway as part of his weekly media availability. “It was an iconic number for my father and it means a lot to a lot of his fans.
“This sport doesn’t really retire numbers and all the numbers have history tied to them for several different reasons. The No. 3 is no different. … (Dillon) came up through the ranks and he drove the No. 3 in dirt racing and he drove the No. 3 in his Truck series and Nationwide series. He has earned the right to run that number as long as he wants.”
Earnhardt realizes some longtime NASCAR fans – particularly those of his late father – may feel it’s wrong for Dillon to drive the No. 3 car, that it may in some way be lessening the legacy of the man they called “The Intimidator.”
“He wants to run it; I think it’s not really fair to deny somebody that opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “I’m okay with it. I know that might not be the way a lot of people feel or some people feel, but I’m sure it’s the minority that feels that way. I think that a lot of people will be telling Austin positive things about it.”