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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.”

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Haas reveals VF-17 ahead of sophomore Formula 1 season

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The Haas Formula 1 team has officially revealed its new car, the VF-17, ahead of its sophomore season on the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, enjoying an impressive first campaign during which it exceeded all expectations.

The VF-16 carried Romain Grosjean to 29 points, including a fifth-place finish in Bahrain and an impressive charge to sixth on debut in Australia.

Its successor, the VF-17, hit the track for the first time on Saturday in Barcelona, with images being leaked on Twitter ahead of its official unveil on Sunday.

The new car retains a similar livery to the VF-16, with the Haas Automation company colors of grey, red and black all featuring, but the chassis itself sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations.

“I think the pedal box is the same, but all the rest is very different from last year’s car,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said.

“You always try to make a faster car, which is normally a lighter car. Now we can put on more ballast and get better weight distribution. The aero is completely new, as are the tires, so we needed to have some built-in adjustability.

“Aesthetically, the car has a more aggressive look. It’s lighter and more aerodynamically efficient. Everything we learned from our first car has been applied to our new car.”

Grosjean will be joined at Haas this year by Kevin Magnussen, who has previously raced for McLaren and Renault and has signed a multi-year deal with the American team.

McLaren MCL32 F1 car gets first track test in Barcelona

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both got their first taste of the new MCL32 car in Barcelona on Sunday ahead of pre-season testing.

McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on Friday, with the biggest talking point being its striking new orange livery that harks back to the team’s racing roots.

Prior to the start of collective testing on Monday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, McLaren took advantage of its filming day allowance to turn in some laps on Sunday.

Alonso got the first run in the Honda-powered MCL32 before handing over to Vandoorne in the afternoon.

Red Bull unveils RB13 Formula 1 car ahead of testing

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Red Bull has become the latest team to unveil its new car for the 2017 Formula 1 season, revealing the Renault-powered RB13 on Sunday morning.

Red Bull enters 2017 after returning to the top step of the podium last year, taking two race wins en route to second place in the constructors’ championship.

Daniel Ricciardo finished third in the drivers’ standings behind the dominant Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, while teammate Max Verstappen became F1’s youngest ever winner at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Both drivers return for 2017 and will pilot the RB13, which sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations in F1.

Red Bull revealed the new car with a snazzy launch video playing on the number 13, saying that its new RB13 could be “unlucky for some”.

The RB13 – aptly launched at 13:13 local time in Barcelona – is much wider than its predecessor and also sports the ‘shark fin’ engine cover that also appears on a number of the other cars that will race this year. The car also retains the sleek matte look that the team debuted in 2016.

The RB13 will hit the track for the first time on Monday with the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Spain.

More to follow.

Otmar Szafnauer confident new F1 rules will create ‘uncertainty’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Sergio Perez (L) of Mexico and Sahara Force India and Esteban Ocon of France and Sahara Force India unveil the VJM10 car during the Sahara Force India Formula One team launch at Silverstone on February 22, 2017 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Force India chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer is confident that Formula 1’s new technical regulations will create uncertainty and allow teams to move up the pecking order.

Force India enjoyed its best season in F1 last year, finishing the year fourth in the constructors’ championship behind only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.

For 2017, new technical regulations are set to make the cars significantly quicker over a single lap, prompting teams to place great focus on preparing for the upcoming campaign.

Speaking following the launch of Force India’s new car, the VJM10, Szafnauer was positive about the chances that the new rules would bring for both the tam and the sport.

“Whenever you mix up the rules it’s bound to introduce some uncertainty. There’s the opportunity for teams to achieve or underachieve and if that happens it will disrupt the status quo,” Szafnauer said.

“Will the new rules create better racing? Only time will tell. The cars will be significantly faster – not down the straights, but through the corners – but the braking zones will be reduced and that won’t necessarily have a positive impact on overtaking opportunities.

“I certainly like the aesthetics of the new cars because they remind me of the racing cars of old. I’m sure they will look spectacular on the track too.”

When asked about Force India’s objectives for the year ahead, Szafnauer remained coy, but said that the early signs within the team were positive.

“As a team we have some internal objectives, but it’s very hard for me to verbalize those ambitions because it’s impossible to know what our competitors could achieve given such a huge change of regulations,” Szafnauer said.

“What I can say is that we have met our internal targets for the car – for example in terms of the aero numbers we set as the goal for the launch car. How those targets compare to our competitors is impossible to say until we hit the track.”

Force India will enjoy its first public run with the VJM10 car in Barcelona on Monday at the start of collective pre-season testing.