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Austin Dillon intends to honor Dale Earnhardt’s legacy and keep his memory alive in No. 3 car

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Austin Dillon has been preparing for Feb. 23 for pretty much his entire racing life.

Not only will he kick off the start of his first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series that day in the 56th Daytona 500, Dillon more importantly will bring back the legendary No. 3 onto the Cup racing scene.

It was 13 years ago that Dale Earnhardt last raced the No. 3, tragically killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 season-opening Daytona 500. No other driver has competed in the Cup series in the No. 3 since then.

Dillon is the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, for whom Earnhardt won six of his seven Cup championships driving the No. 3.

To his credit, Dillon has gone out of his way to tell media, fans and pretty much anyone else that will listen that he’s not trying to step into Earnhardt’s shoes, nor is he trying to discredit Earnhardt’s famous racing number.

“Dale was so important in driving that number,” Dillon said at Thursday’s NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. “He was the guy that made that number what it is today. But Dale Earnhardt is Dale Earnhardt not only because of the number, but because he was a hero and created so many things for this sport.  The number for me, hopefully I can continue the legacy that it has and keep on moving on with it.”

Dillon has driven the No. 3 in various forms of racing that he’s competed in, including winning the Camping World Truck Series in 2011 and the Nationwide Series championship last season – both coming in rides that sported the infamous number on the doors and hood.

In a sense, even though the No. 3 was Earnhardt’s number in Sprint Cup, it’s also been Dillon’s number throughout his career for nearly 20 years, ever since he got behind the wheel of a go-kart 20 years ago.

Admittedly, Dillon did initially give thought to perhaps not driving the No. 3 once he reached the pinnacle of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup division.

“There’s always thoughts of it,” he said. “I feel like you go through times, and you don’t know what to go through.  My family, RCR (Richard Childress Racing), all the people there around us, hearing it from Dale Jr. (who gave Dillon his blessing to drive the No. 3) and people like that, is very influential I feel like to where we’re at today.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve looked at other numbers and stuff, too.  It wasn’t like, ‘That’s the number I want to run. Bam, bam, that’s how I was going to do it or nothing.’ We were very respectful in the fact it was up to my grandfather and the people that were around that number the longest.

“So I’m not a kid that says, ‘Hey, this is what I want, this is what I’m going to get.’ I’ve never been that way. Hopefully, I’m never portrayed that way. I’m a very respectful person and look to the history of the sport. I feel fortunate I’m getting this opportunity, though.”

Among other numbers Dillon considered at one point or other were the 21, 2 and 41 – all of which are taken by Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick this season – and even the 33, as an alternative to the No. 3, much like Dale Earnhardt Jr. transitioned from the No. 8 while driving at Dale Earnhardt Inc., to the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Even though Earnhardt left us 13 years ago, his image remains ever-present in the sport, particularly around Daytona with fans still having stickers or wearing clothing to honor their fallen hero. Even in death, Earnhardt merchandise remains a hot seller at souvenir stands and stores.

“The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever,” Dillon said.  “Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number.  He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody’s mind, including myself.  Dale is going to fly here forever.  That’s the coolest thing about everything that’s going on.”

Earnhardt’s mother, Martha, said in a nationally televised interview Wednesday that she had ‘mixed feelings’ about seeing the No. 3 back on the track.

Dillon understands those feelings and is doing everything he can to honor Dale Earnhardt’s memory and legacy.

“The biggest thing is being respectful to all the family that is involved and also just taking this opportunity and hoping that fans are embracing it the right way,” Dillon said. “We’re trying to continue the legacy of the No. 3.  I think we’ve done a good job of that so far.

“I think we respect everything that the Earnhardt family has to say.  Dale Jr. and everybody has been very supportive of it.  It’s been a good thing so far.  Everything’s been great.  Just continue to move on with what we’re going with.

“I think there was something about the number and the color.  That is one thing my grandfather said from the beginning, that we weren’t going to have it black.  So luckily the Cheerios car and Dow, everybody, our sponsors, have some black in the color with their sponsor, exactly not a percentage that’s more than 50 percent.  I think the most we’ve got on a paint scheme is 60 percent.  That is one thing.  But we’re definitely respectful and going to keep it color sensitive.”

Fans are expected to honor the return of the three on race day, most likely extending three fingers on the third lap in Earnhardt’s memory. And while Dillon knows there will be some who will forever consider it sacrilege that the No. 3 is back racing, he hopes those critics will at least give him a chance to honor the number and Earnhardt with his performance.

“Everybody’s got their own opinion,” Dillon said. “I feel like hopefully we can win them over as time goes on. That’s all you can do.

“Hopefully they’re open enough to take a look at everything that we’re doing. I think as far as performance and moving forward, hopefully we can win them over.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: John Force, Tony Schumacher earn first wins in over a year

NHRA winners Sunday at Denver (left to right): Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photos, videos courtesy NHRA)
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It was like old times in Sunday’s final round of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.

For the first time in over a year, the two winningest drivers in nitro fuel history reached the winner’s circle.

John Force, winningest driver in NHRA annals, earned his 144th career Funny Car victory, while Tony Schumacher, winningest driver in the Top Fuel ranks, earned his 81st career win in a dragster.

Also earning wins at the Morrison, Colorado track were Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Force (3.965 seconds/319.45 mph) defeated daughter Courtney (3.963/314.75) in the Funny Car final. Not only was it John Force’s first win since June 2015, it was also the seventh of his career at Denver.

“I didn’t have a monkey on my back, it was a gorilla,” Force said in a NHRA media release. “I needed this real bad. I told Courtney I love her, but I am giving this everything I’ve got.

“Let’s face it, we’ve been getting beat up lately by the Schumacher and Kalitta teams. It’s a great day to come here and look like we know what we’re doing.”

https://youtu.be/UI1w0vVD3k4

At 67, the elder Force becomes the oldest driver to win a NHRA Funny Car race.

“Let’s face it, the competition is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Force, who became the first Funny Car driver to ever break the four-second barrier at Bandimere Speedway. “It’s tough to race my little girl there and it was a close one. I can do this game. I love it. I don’t have anywhere to go. I am going to keep doing this. I want to keep building this sport.”

As for Schumacher, he won for the third time in his career at Bandimere, notching his first win since early July 2015 (at his home track, Route 66 Raceway, in suburban Chicago).

Schumacher (3.802 seconds at 324.28 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown (5.199/144.75) after the latter slowed at half-track in the final round to earn the victory.

“To win one of these trophies you have to beat some bad dudes, and we beat a bunch of them today from Doug Kalitta to Antron Brown,” said Schumacher, who outran Kalitta in round one, top qualifier Steve Torrence in the quarterfinals and Clay Millican in the semis to advance to the final round meeting with Brown. “I’ve enjoyed great moments in racing during my career, but coming back from a huge deficit when people have counted you out like we have done this weekend is the most satisfying to me.”

https://youtu.be/Op5NgZGDENk

But there was good news for defending series champ Brown, even in defeat: he remains in the lead of the Top Fuel standings, holding a 57-point edge over second-ranked Doug Kalitta.

In Pro Stock, Johnson (6.982 seconds at 197.34 mph) won for a record seventh time at Bandimere (along with three other runner-up finishes), defeating Vincent Nobile (7.037/196.82).

“We stunk the place up all weekend during qualifying,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have given us a one percent chance to win all weekend. The magic up here is just on our side for some reason.”

Johnson becomes the first driver other than points leaders Jason Line or Greg Anderson to win a Pro Stock race this season. Line and Anderson combined to win the first 13 races of the 24-race season.

https://youtu.be/V-t0GeWTKbY

“I am sure I am speaking for everyone in the pits, but to break that juggernaut is big,” Johnson said. “We might have got a break or two along the way, but I guess that was that mountain magic. It was great to win here for all the great Denver and Mopar fans and to get the win on live TV on FOX.”

Sunday’s race was a milestone in NHRA history as it marked the first time in the sanctioning body’s 65 years that a race was televised on national network television (FOX TV).

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines (7.134 seconds at 188.33 mph) became the winningest two-wheel rider in history, earning his 45th career triumph, defeating teammate Eddie Krawiec (7.148/187.21).

In addition, it was Hines’ third win of the season.

https://youtu.be/NAcEDV9T5U4

“Coming back to win on the mountain, it means a lot,” Hines said. “My team has had my motorcycle really dialed in right now. It is our third final in a row and I am just riding the wave. I don’t think I’ve ever put eight runs like that together in a weekend. The bike is such a joy to ride right now.”

The annual “Western Swing” continues next weekend (July 29-31) at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Tony Schumacher; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  Clay Millican; 4.  J.R. Todd; 5.  Shawn Langdon; 6. Richie Crampton; 7.  Brittany Force; 8.  Steve Torrence; 9.  Doug Kalitta; 10.  Scott Palmer; 11. Chris Karamesines; 12.  Bill Litton; 13.  Terry Haddock; 14.  Rob Passey; 15.  Leah Pritchett; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  John Force; 2.  Courtney Force; 3.  Robert Hight; 4.  Del Worsham; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Hale; 8.  Ron Capps; 9.  Jack Beckman; 10.  Alexis DeJoria; 11.  Todd Simpson; 12.  Chad Head; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  Jim Campbell; 15.  Jeff Diehl; 16.  Tim Wilkerson.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Allen Johnson; 2.  Vincent Nobile; 3.  Jason Line; 4.  Greg Anderson; 5.  Bo Butner; 6.  Alex Laughlin; 7.  Erica Enders; 8.  Chris McGaha; 9.  Shane Gray; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Richie Stevens; 12.  Drew Skillman; 13.  Deric Kramer; 14.  Matt Hartford; 15.  Alan Prusiensky.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines; 2.  Eddie Krawiec; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  LE Tonglet; 5.  Angelle Sampey; 6.  Chip Ellis; 7.  Cory Reed; 8.  Matt Smith; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  Shawn Gann; 11.  Tyler Fisher; 12. Karen Stoffer; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Michael Ray; 15.  Scotty Pollacheck; 16.  Hector Arana.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

Top Fuel: Tony Schumacher, 3.802 seconds, 324.28 mph  def. Antron Brown, 5.199 seconds, 144.75 mph.

Funny Car: John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.965, 319.45  def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.963, 314.75.

Pro Stock: Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.982, 197.39  def. Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 7.037, 196.82.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.134, 188.33  def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.148, 187.21.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.788, 321.19 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.832, 320.74; Clay Millican, 3.821, 316.23 def. Terry Haddock, 4.284, 286.80; Antron Brown, 3.870, 308.28 def. Rob Passey, 4.396, 208.91; Steve Torrence, 3.843, 321.35 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.089, 297.02; Richie Crampton, 4.113, 280.37 def. Bill Litton, 4.178, 280.49; Brittany Force, 3.829, 317.05 def. Terry McMillen, 5.684, 125.96; J.R. Todd, 3.844, 318.62 def. Scott Palmer, 4.019, 282.78; Shawn Langdon, 4.288, 194.97 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.877, 181.45;

QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.840, 317.05 def. Langdon, 3.831, 316.90; Millican, 3.857, 313.80 def. Force, 4.204, 271.95; Todd, 3.841, 322.11 def. Crampton, 3.862, 312.57; Schumacher, 4.083, 275.73 def. Torrence, 4.381, 194.49;

SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.839, 319.90 def. Millican, 3.841, 317.49; Brown, 3.826, 307.86 def. Todd, 3.915, 274.05;

FINAL — Schumacher, 3.802, 324.28 def. Brown, 5.199, 144.75.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.047, 316.45 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.078, 301.47; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.972, 315.42 def. Jim Campbell, Toyota Camry, 5.964, 126.59; John Force, Camaro, 4.001, 312.35 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 6.219, 94.02; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.024, 317.12 def. Todd Simpson, Camaro, 4.411, 230.57; John Hale, Charger, 4.303, 240.64 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.324, 232.71; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.992, 320.58 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.846, 123.67; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.039, 318.62 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, Broke – No Show; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.041, 306.40 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.001, 158.93;

QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 4.038, 310.98 def. Hagan, 4.050, 317.64; C. Force, 4.016, 315.56 def. Johnson Jr., 4.032, 315.71; Hight, 3.997, 322.81 def. Hale, 4.161, 289.38; Worsham, 4.052, 317.42 def. Capps, 4.399, 213.27;

SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 4.005, 316.60 def. Worsham, 4.054, 315.78; C. Force, 3.937, 322.04 def. Hight, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — J. Force, 3.965, 319.45 def. C. Force, 3.963, 314.75.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 7.000, 197.13 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 7.026, 195.62; Allen Johnson, Dart, 7.000, 196.59 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 7.047, 197.74; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.995, 197.22 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 7.054, 195.73; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.945, 198.47 def. Richie Stevens, Dart, 7.033, 195.85; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 15.319, 55.23 was unopposed; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.025, 196.22 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.992, 198.12; Erica Enders, Dart, 6.970, 197.42 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 7.989, 188.31; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.959, 197.94 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 7.049, 195.14;

QUARTERFINALS — Nobile, 7.031, 196.50 def. Laughlin, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.998, 197.25 def. McGaha, 7.020, 196.24; Johnson, 7.000, 196.53 def. Enders, 7.006, 195.62; Line, 6.977, 197.57 def. Butner, 6.979, 197.86; SEMIFINALS — Johnson, 6.986, 196.42 def. Anderson, 6.968, 197.19; Nobile, 16.014, 52.83 def. Line, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Johnson, 6.982, 197.39 def. Nobile, 7.037, 196.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:

ROUND ONE — Cory Reed, Buell, 7.234, 183.49 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, 7.278, 184.09; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.204, 185.89 def. Michael Ray, Buell, 7.320, 182.26; Chip Ellis, Buell, 15.210, 93.84 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 7.204, 183.49 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 7.230, 184.09 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.285, 183.82; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 7.234, 184.77 def. Tyler Fisher, Suzuki, 7.284, 182.90; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.213, 184.90 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 7.370, 179.85; Matt Smith, 7.251, 183.67 def. Angie Smith, 7.314, 180.00;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 7.221, 184.35 def. Sampey, 7.299, 184.35; Tonglet, 7.304, 182.33 def. M.Smith, 16.874, 44.19; Krawiec, 7.245, 184.37 def. Ellis, 7.317, 183.42; Hines, 7.234, 184.77 def. Reed, 12.995, 60.23;

SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 7.218, 186.23 def. Savoie, 7.227, 184.42; Hines, 7.151, 187.34 def. Tonglet, 7.228, 184.90;

FINAL — Hines, 7.134, 188.33 def. Krawiec, 7.148, 187.21.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Antron Brown, 1,145; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 1,088; 3.  Steve Torrence, 982; 4.  Brittany Force, 953; 5.  Tony Schumacher, 916; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 800; 7.  J.R. Todd, 799; 8.  Clay Millican, 681; 9. Richie Crampton, 660; 10.  Leah Pritchett, 553.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,120; 2.  Courtney Force, 998; 3.  Jack Beckman, 976; 4.  Matt Hagan, 881; 5. (tie) Robert Hight, 877; Del Worsham, 877; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 855; 8.  John Force, 821; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 793; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 733.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 1,548; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,466; 3.  Bo Butner, 955; 4.  Allen Johnson, 885; 5. Vincent Nobile, 758; 6.  Drew Skillman, 753; 7.  Chris McGaha, 661; 8.  Shane Gray, 658; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 613; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 595.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 742; 2.  Andrew Hines, 633; 3.  Angelle Sampey, 534; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 500; 5. Chip Ellis, 386; 6.  Hector Arana, 375; 7.  LE Tonglet, 364; 8.  Matt Smith, 290; 9.  Steve Johnson, 268; 10.  Michael Ray, 262.

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Greaves car, lineup confirmed for FIA WEC’s Mexico City race

MONTEREY, CA - MAY 03:  Bruno Junqueira prepares to drive during practice for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 3, 2014 in Monterey, California.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Junqueira (above) back in action. Photo: Getty Images
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The LMP2 grid will grow by one for the next FIA World Endurance Championship race, the 6 Hours of Mexico City, with the confirmation of the Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S Nissan.

Greaves will run the lineup of Roberto Gonzalez, brother of race promoter and RGR Sport by Morand team owner and co-driver Ricardo Gonzalez, along with Bruno Junqueira and Luis Diaz.

Junqueira and Roberto Gonzalez have been co-drivers in the past with the Rocketsports (RSR) team in the Prototype Challenge class of the American Le Mans Series.

Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images

Diaz (right) is another prototype class veteran, with recent PC experience (8Star Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports) added to his LMP2 days with Fernandez Racing.

All three of them also competed in Champ Car World Series races in Mexico City, with Gonzalez and Diaz part of a six-Mexican driver entry in the 2003 race (Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain Jr., Mario Dominguez and Rodolfo Lavin).

Ricardo Gonzalez co-drives the No. 43 RGR Sport Ligier JS P2 Nissan with Bruno Senna and Filipe Albuquerque in the WEC.

Sainz pleased to match McLaren’s pace in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Carlos Sainz of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Spain during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Carlos Sainz Jr. was pleased with a “solid” performance in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand prix that saw him finish eighth for Toro Rosso.

Sainz spent much of the race in close contention with his childhood racing hero Fernando Alonso, finishing just three seconds behind the McLaren driver at the checkered flag.

The result means that Sainz has scored points in all but one race he has finished in 2016, leading Toro Rosso’s charge in the constructors’ championship.

“[A] solid race again, up to [the] pace of McLarens. Pretty pleased with that,” Sainz told NBCSN after the race.

“Fernando got us at the start and that was about it. Impossible to pass from there and he controlled it.

“But it’s a very solid weekend from the team to close the first half of the season quite well, and we’re pretty happy.”

Toro Rosso is just five points clear of McLaren in the constructors’ championship, but Sainz hopes that a step in performance next weekend in Germany will help him to open up the gap once again.

“We have a step hopefully coming in Germany, and a step forward in performance,” Sainz said.

“McLaren has got ahead of us which is a bit worrying.

“But we will try to compensate that and see if we can hold them back.”

FIA WEC confirms July date for 2017 Nürburgring round

Audi R18 (2016) #7 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer
Audi R18 (2016) #8 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval, Oliver Jarvis
© Audi Sport
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FIA World Endurance Championship officials have confirmed that next year’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring will take place on July 16.

The WEC ventured to the Nürburgring for the first time in 2015 before enjoying a successful return over the weekend, with a crowd of 58,000 fans turning up on Sunday.

During the race won by the no. 1 Porsche crew of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, it was confirmed that the WEC will return to the Nürburgring in 2017 over the July 14-16 weekend.

 

However, it was flagged up on Twitter that this is the same weekend scheduled to host the Formula E double-header in Montreal.

Around two-thirds of the Formula E grid also race in the WEC, with the two championships preventing clashes so that drivers do not have to pick between them. As a result, it seems inevitable that one of the races will have to change date.