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Dale Earnhardt’s # 3 Returns To NASCAR Cup Level
Fans of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. had a little bit of everything to encounter these past few Speedweeks.
Ranging from the 13th anniversary of his death on Feb 18, 2001, to the return of his famous car number being driven by Austin Dillon, the grandson of car owner Richard Childress, and of course after a 6 1/2 hour rain delay, his son winning the Dayton 500 for the second time.
Feb.18th 2001, was a day when the entire world stood still not just for die-hard NASCAR fans, but even more so for the fans known as “Earnhardt Nation.”
The sect of fans that idolized the racing legend felt a harsh blow that day with the untimely passing of Dale Sr.
After Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death, car owner Richard Childress wasn’t sure what to do with his car, so they took a rookie driver named Kevin Harvick and put him behind the wheel of Dale’s old car, changing the color and number to allow everyone time to pick up the pieces and learn how to deal with the 3’s absence from our lives and the track.
It took Harvick three races and a lot of faith from his race team to pull off the feat of driving in the car made legendary by Dale Sr., but Harvick did his best to honor the greatness of the car.
Harvick would drive around the track with three fingers up as an ode to the legend and every time he did it there was always thunderous cheer from the crowd. This was the first step in the healing process for the race world to know it was ok to enjoy racing again.
It had remained that way for over ten years until Wrangler asked a group of people for their help in honoring Dale Sr.
Wrangler Asked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Crew Chief Tony Eury Jr. to call the shots for Dale Jr. to drive the #3 for the team he drove for while at his father’s company, and the same team he won two Nationwide Championships with.
Everyone was told that if Dale Jr. won, (which he did) that this would be the last time the #3 would be in Victory Lane, allowing everyone “One More Win” and a chance for the #3 to go out on top before being retired for good.
It was during this time that Richard’s grandson Austin wanted to drive and wanted the #3 as his number, and in all fairness to Austin, he has had done some great things.
He won the Truck & Nationwide Championship title with the #3 as his car, and took Rookie Of The Year honors as well driving with Dale Sr.’s legendary number. And some believed it was a matter of time before he went to the next level: the Cup Level.
This is where we are all at now. Although Austin Dillon has served the #3 well in all the levels of competition he’s driven the car in, he is not Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Many believe if Austin wanted the # then there were many different ways to go about doing it, possibly by earning his way into racing in the car as opposed to being the grandson of Childress.
But regardless of who’s driving the care it just doesn’t seem right for anyone to be driving with that numbers because the image of Dale Sr. driving it a memory so many people hold dear.
With all that said, Austin did put the #3 on the Pole, and did seem to know what he was doing out there even though he is only a rookie.
All this was very short-lived because when the race was underway the #3 fell back from the lead having problems after problems before making a charge back toward the front of the field, only to get caught up in two multi-car crashes with 55 laps left; one of which he started.
He did finish 9, the best out of a field of 9 rookies so that has to count for something.
But ultimately the race ended in storybook fashion with Austin bringing back the #3 on a the night Dale Jr. brought home his 2nd Daytona 500 win. A feat that Dale Sr. himself couldn’t do.
So no matter how you look at it, only time will tell if letting Austin Dillon take over the reigns of the #3 car is a good move.
I for one wish Austin well driving the #3 car.
I would rather no one be driving that number anymore personally but if it has to be done then I hope he achieves great things in his career. Either way life moves on and let’s just all celebrate and enjoy seeing the #3 car back on the track again.
And as far as that night in Daytona when his car was back on the track and his son was lifting the trophy, we know the Big Man was watching from above, smiling down on every in the NASCAR community lucky enough to enjoy the festivities. Dale Sr. you are missed.