Today marks the first time in thirteen years we’ll see a black #3 car on a NASCAR track. If we were having this conversation a few years ago, I would have been very upset if had happened then. It’s a different time now. The car belongs on the track, and probably should have returned several years ago.
Back in the day, I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan. I owned a couple of his GM Goodwrench hats. I watched every NASCAR race on the schedule. I participated in several online racing leagues and won championships the way he did – with a cinder block on my shoulder and nothing to lose in the final laps.
You can imagine how devastated I was when Dale died and the #3 car disappeared from the track. I always held out hope another ornery, aggressive driver would step in and return the car to glory. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was an obvious choice for his lineage. Tony Stewart, my favorite driver since Dale passed away, would have been a perfect fit. But as time passed, it was obvious neither of them would ever drive the #3 car for Richard Childress Racing full-time.
Now we have Austin Dillon doing what I had hoped Jr. and Stewart would have done. How do I feel about this? The more I think about it, I really like it. Austin is Richard’s grandson, has only driven the #3 in his short career, and already has championships in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series to his credit. It also helps that, like Earnhardt and Stewart, Dillon won’t take crap from anyone on the track.
For us longtime Earnhardt fans, we have to keep this in perspective. Before Sr. drove the car, drivers like Buck Baker, Buddy Baker, Ricky Rudd and Junior Johnson won races while driving the #3. It’s not like that number belongs to Dale. It belongs to NASCAR – and back on the track.
While I’ll be rooting for Stewart to win the Daytona 500, I wouldn’t mind seeing the #3 car run up front or end up in Victory Lane today.