Return of The #3 To NASCAR Results in 2 Big Wrecks at Daytona
He is a talented driver, and will learn from experience, but the return of the #3 car driven by Austin Dillon was anything but spectacular Sunday.
The victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. will no doubt please "Junior Nation" and appease some of the Dale Sr. fans, but Dillon's performance only added fuel to the fire over the #3.
Not since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. had any Sprint Cup car carried the number. Richard Childress, Dale Sr.'s car owner for many years, brought the number back a couple of years ago in the Camping World Truck Series, then in the Nationwide Series for his grandson, Austin Dillon. It had been 13 years since Earnhardt Sr. carried the number in NASCAR's top series when he died at Daytona in 2001.
Dillon is a solid, aggressive driver who won the truck series championship in 2011, and the Nationwide title in 2013, after a rapid rise through the regional stock car ranks.
However, even though the number was brought back by Childress, and he owns the rights to it, many die-hard NASCAR fans felt it should have been retired. Now, NASCAR doesn't retire numbers like other sports. Race teams pay to reserve, or rent, numbers. Many die-hard fans felt Childress should have paid enough to keep the number for years, but never use it, out of respect for Earnhardt. Sr. The ONLY driver many feel who could have used #3 would be Dale Earnhardt. Jr. but that subject was long since dismissed, especially since Jr. is with Hendrick Motorsports.
Dillon ran the black Dow paint job for Daytona, on right in the picture.
After winning the pole for the Daytona 500, Dillon led the first lap, then spent most of the race outside the top ten. He hung around about 12-13th to 20th for much of the race. He did wind up finishing 9th, but only because he triggered a 12-car crash on lap 162.
That wreck took out numerous competitors who were running nearby his position.
He was also involved, and some observers say helped trigger, another "big one" (as they call the crashes at Daytona) on lap 145.
Dillon, who was voted the most popular in the truck series the year he won that championship, will learn and get better. Restrictor plate racing at the Cup level is far more complex than trucks or Nationwide. But it isn't going to help him that he is carrying the number of the driver whom many say was the sport's greatest, Dale Sr. It will only make the comparisons grow louder this season, especially if Dillon doesn't have reasonable success from here forward.