With the recent success of driver Austin Dillon in his rookie season of Nationwide, many have raised the question of what will happen when Dillon moves up to Sprint Cup. This question is triggered by the fact that Dillon drives the 3 car for Childress racing. There are many fans out there who believe the 3 should be retired due to the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr and others who believe it's time to bring back the 3 car. What would bringing back the legendary number mean to NASCAR? Is it a good decision to bring back the 3 car? These are the questions I would like to try to answer.
Dillon is the grandson of owner Richard Childress, who owns the rights to the 3 car. Childress has said he has terms on what must happen for the number to be brought back. His first term is that the only drivers allowed to bring back the legendary number are Earnhardts and Dillons. As Earnhardt and Childress were very close, I believe this to be a classy move by Childress. His other condition is that the 3 would be restyled and not be the same as the style Sr made legendary. Although I am for the 3 coming back, I had concerns that they would run the same style 3. Dillon is currently running that style although it is in Nationwide.
Even with the new style and family connection, how would this move affect the fans that once followed Earnhardt so loyally. Very few can argue that there are better fans that the ones that followed Sr through his races. As a kid, there were very few times my family would go on a trip that I didn't see that legendary number plastered on the back windshield of a pickup. The 3 was everywhere and still is to this day. On our trip to Kentucky Speedway I still saw many fans proudly displaying the 3. How would this move affect those fans? In my opinion, if the 3 was restyled any NASCAR fan would be able to distinguish between a Dillon fan and those that still love Earnhardt and proudly show it.
With all that being said, there are many legendary drivers who's numbers we still see racing around the track. Richard Petty's famous 43 car can now be seen every weekend being piloted by Aric Almirola. Many other drivers drove a variety of numbers on their road to becoming legends and those numbers are still seen going around the track. The main difference is the way Earnhardt's career ended, with that crash at Daytona that took his life. Despite the tragic way his career ended, I believe if these other legendary drivers don't get their numbers retired then we shouldn't retire the 3 and put it out of use. It would make no sense to retire a number in NASCAR. If we did, we would end up running low on numbers years down the road and have to use numbers like 77F like you see at a backwoods dirt track race.
I understand the use of the 3 is a touchy subject among NASCAR fans, but upon the start of next season it will have been 12 years since Earnhardt's death. I believe we should never see that style 3 again, but as fans I believe it's time for us to move forward. Childress has the right idea on how to approach bringing back the 3, and I'm sure he will talk with the Earnhardt family before making such a move. My belief is if it's ok with the Earnhardt family and the Childress family then we as fans should accept the move. It will be tough for many fans, but I believe this will be a good move for NASCAR.