Austin Dillon officially confirmed in RCR’s No. 3 for Sprint Cup

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NASCAR’s worst-kept secret is finally official. Austin Dillon will move up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2014 with Richard Childress Racing, and he’s bringing back the No. 3 to Cup for the first time since 2001.

No driver – not even Dale Earnhardt Jr. – has raced with the No. 3 in Cup since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Still, the majority of this morning’s press conference to confirm the news to say that after 13 years, it was time.

“I know in my heart that Dale Earnhardt is smiling down,” Childress said.

Childress has held onto the number rights for the No. 3 since 2001, but hasn’t been challenged on its use. Only family will have the opportunity to race it in NASCAR’s top level, Childress explained.

“We held the number. I’ve been paying NASCAR for it. Bill (France) Jr. said we may have to give it up if someone wanted it, but we weren’t challenged,” Childress said. “It would have to be an Earnhardt or one of the Childress family that we’d put in the 3. Unless I get Jeffrey Earnhardt, it won’t be in Trucks. For Austin to go out and do what he’s did with that number proves it’s time. The first time I put out the idea of running the 3, support was around 80-85 percent, then after a day, it went to 90. It was time. It was Austin’s choice.”

Dillon, too, understands the significance and heritage of running the 3. He has the opportunity both to create new memories and rekindle old ones.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he said. “I’ve been put in by my grandfather, and he’s been great to push me in right direction and handle things the right now. Everyone knows who made this number famous. We feel like, with bringing it back, and working with RCR, it is going to be special. I feel fortunate, and I want to run well. I want to set high goals and maintain those.”

Dillon, 23, replaces Kevin Harvick, as Harvick leaves RCR after 13 years to move onto Stewart-Haas Racing. With the driver change comes the number change, back to 3 from the 29 Harvick ran for the entirety of his career there. Dillon will work with crew chief Gil Martin, who said he felt “a little bit of rejuvenation” with this news.

Dillon made sure to ask the right people, from Earnhardt Jr. through to RCR veterans like Danny “Chocolate” Myers and J.R. Rhodes, for their thoughts and approval. He earned it.

Alas, Dillon enters the seat as a champion. He won the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, despite not winning a race, and also took home the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. In 13 Sprint Cup starts, Dillon has a best finish of 11th at Michigan in June 2013 in a fourth RCR car.

Dow Chemical and Cheerios will split the role of primary sponsor. Dow has been involved with many of NASCAR’s products, but not directly as a primary sponsor. Cheerios enters its eighth year with RCR in 2014, and 17th in the sport in total.

Childress also confirmed Brian Scott, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan will run in the team’s three-car Nationwide program with all entries full-time. RCR will not field a truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and its equipment has been sold to Gallagher Motorsports.

Childress later recalled a story about how Austin wanted the 3 to begin with, when he and Ty were first growing up.

“When Ty called me and said, ‘We want to go racing,’ that was the most expensive call I’ve ever had,” Childress joked. “When I asked what number he wanted Ty said, ‘I want the number 2, ’cause my dad drove it.’ I asked, Austin, he says ‘I want the number 3.’ I say, ‘Austin, you know it’s Dale’s number.’ He knew it then. It made me proud.”

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Photo Credit: Richard Childress Racing

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.