Austin Dillon to bring No. 3 to Sprint Cup Series

The late Dale Earnhardt’s famed No. 3 will be back on track in

the elite Sprint Cup Series next season with Austin Dillon using

the number.

The move has been long anticipated because car owner Richard

Childress has allowed his grandson to use the No. 3 as he’s moved

through NASCAR’s ranks.

”I know in my heart, today, as I sit here, Dale Earnhardt is

smiling down,” Childress said at Wednesday’s unveiling. ”He would

want to see this 3. He didn’t want it to ever go away. But I felt

it was the thing to do right after Daytona, and I know today that

he’s accepting this highly. I knew him that well.”

The number has not been used since Earnhardt’s death in the 2001

season-opening Daytona 500. The car was rebranded to No. 29 for

Kevin Harvick following Earnhardt’s fatal accident.

But Dillon has been using it NASCAR national competition since

2009, when he made his Truck Series debut in the No. 3. He won the

Truck championship in 2011 driving the No. 3 for Richard Childress

Racing, and the Nationwide title this year in the same number.

Childress kept the number out of the Cup Series, though, intent

on hanging on to it for the right driver.

”We held the number, I’ve been paying NASCAR for it throughout

the years and Bill (France) Jr. told me `You know, if we’re ever

challenged, we’ll have to let someone have that 3,’ ” Childress

said. ”But we weren’t, and I knew that the right opportunity would

come. It would have to be an Earnhardt or one of the Childress

family that we would put behind that.”

Childress said he publicly floated the idea of allowing Dillon

to use the No. 3 at the start of the year to get a fan response,

and got 90 percent positive feedback the day after he mentioned the

number.

”That said to me it was time, and if Austin wanted to it was

his choice,” Childress said.

Dillon said he was ready, and it’s the only number he’s ever

used in NASCAR.

”My grandfather has done a great job of teaching me how to

handle certain responses to things, and I think we’re going to go

forward with it,” Dillon said. ”I’ve heard a lot of good feedback

from the fans, and every time I’m at an autograph session I’ve had

someone ask what’s going to happen. They are excited and we are,

too, at RCR.

”It’s what our sport was built on – family and history – and a

great opportunity for all of our sport to see this No. 3 back on

the track.”

The No. 3 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Dow, Bass Pro, Realtree

and General Mills. Neither of the two paint schemes unveiled

Wednesday resembled the dominant black cars driven by Earnhardt,

winner of seven Cup titles and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

But Childress believed just having the No. 3 back in the series

will help resurrect Earnhardt’s legacy.

”My hope is that Dale Earnhardt fans will be re-energized and

say `Hey, it gives me something to look at,’ ” he said. ”We know

we aren’t going to please everyone. We know that. We are going to

do our best to make them proud and I know Austin will. I think the

new fans will learn a lot about the great Dale Earnhardt by

watching this.”

Gil Martin, who led Harvick to six berths in the Chase for the

Sprint Cup championship, will be crew chief for Dillon.

Childress said he’s consulted with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his

sister, Kelley, every time he’s moved the No. 3 to a different

level on the track and the Earnhardt family has been supportive.

Earnhardt Jr. declined to use the No. 3 following his father’s

death, but has raced the number in the Nationwide Series.

”I would be worried if I didn’t think he’d respect it or not

understand the legacy, but he does. I know he does. He appreciates

it,” Earnhardt Jr. said last week of Dillon using the No. 3.

RCR will field a three-car Cup lineup next season with Dillon,

Paul Menard and Ryan Newman.

Ty Dillon will run a full Nationwide Series schedule, and

Childress said Wednesday he’s sold his Truck Series assets to

Gallagher Motorsports.