NASCAR Nation Divided! #3 Will Return to Sprint Cup in 2014 with Austin Dillon
It's got the racing world buzzing. Many fans are up in arms.
If you're not a follower of NASCAR, it might be hard to understand. But the racing world is divided and social media is blowing up with comments about the late great Dale Earnhardt's #3 returning to the Cup Series in February.
Some quick backround: Richard Childress, who was Dale Sr's car owner for many years and during his biggest successes, still owns the rights to the legendary digit. Just like the rights to professional athletes, racing teams "own" the rights to certain numbers. Numbers mean a great deal in NASCAR. See a 24? You KNOW it's Jeff Gordon. 18? Either former champ Bobby LaBonte or now Kyle Busch. Although he's been gone from Roush Racing for years, the #6 will always be linked to legend Mark Martin. #2? Still forever linked to uber-legend Rusty Wallace.
Earnhardt wasn't just a legend or arguably the greatest NASCAR driver ever, he WAS NASCAR personified. It went way beyond his talented, aggressive, menacing style. Earnhardt was either loved, hated, but always respected. To be blunt, he was a "bad-ass" but never had to act like it. He simply WAS. He was bigger than life.
At least at the now closed Tri-City Raceway, at other local tracks, and across the nation, prior to his death in 2001, there were drivers who ran #3, but most of them were pretty decent. You didn't dare put that number on your car and go out and stink up the track. Years ago at TCR, Rusty Cooper and Jim Franklin won a lot of races in the Pure Stock and Street Stock and Super 4 divisions and even some championships running the #3. A handful of other drivers dabbled with it as well.
Franklin once ran a beautiful street stock that was painted blue and gold, exactly like Earnhardt's old Wrangler Jeans car. Drivers who did carry the #3 always said it was out of respect.
But following Dale Sr.'s death at Daytona, nobody dared put 3 on their car, regardless of WHAT local, regional, or national series they ran. It would have been disgustingly disrespectful. It didn't show up again at all until the relatives of Childress, Austin and Ty Dillon, began to run in the Truck and then Nationwide (Busch) Series. Childress is Austin's grandfather. After Earnhardt's death, no driver in any major stock car series - from ASA to ARCA to Cup - ran the #3.
Most people understood why the Dillon's ran the number in the lower series, but when news broke that Austin would be running the #3 in the Cup Series, the same series Dale Sr. ran, the racing world exploded. Many believe the number should stay "retired."
After Earnhardt died, Kevin Harvick took over for him with RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and although he was driving the actual cars built for Dale Sr., they were repainted with the number 29. That number has become synonymous with Harvick.
According to Fox Sports, Childress - who was the car owner for six of Dale Sr's 7 championships- said he believes Dale Sr. would have wanted it this way. Austin is a talented driver, who has won the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series Championships in 2012 and 2013. He said the decision did not come lightly.
What are YOUR thoughts?
(Seen below- Jim Franklin's Northwest Super 4 race car, circa 1990's Tri CIty Raceway - From Tri City Raceway Tribute Facebook page. When drivers did run the #3, they often did it up exactly like Earnhardt out of respect).