Dale Earnhardt Jr. gives Austin Dillon his blessing to race iconic No. 3 Chevrolet in Cup

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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.”

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski