Austin Dillon: Should He Drive the Iconic No. 3 Cup Car for Richard Childress?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2013

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Advocare Chevrolet, sits by his car before the NASCAR Nationwide Series Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 3, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

Many thought that with the tragic passing of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001, the No. 3 used on the Chevrolet he drove should be retired. However, Richard Childress has the right to use the number, and it appears it will be back on track.

We have seen Childress' grandson Austin Dillon behind the wheel of the black No. 3 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. It is also no secret he is being groomed to run the Cup series full-time.

Dillon will drive the No. 33 for Richard Childress Racing in the upcoming 55th running of the Daytona 500. He is scheduled to drive the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing at Las Vegas in March.

If sponsorship can be found, Dillon will drive several more Cup races this season in preparation for a likely run as NASCAR Rookie of the Year during 2014.

Dillon, 22, has two starts in the Cup series. He was the 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion, the 2012 Nationwide series Rookie of the Year and contender for the title.

Childress looks to be basing the future of RCR on the success of his grandsons. It is expected that his other grandson Ty Dillon will test Nationwide waters and move up to Cup racing, as well.

There is little doubt the Dillon brothers are very talented drivers. The younger brother, Ty, won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year in 2012.

Childress has made no statement as to whether he will put Dillon in a Cup car with the stylized No. 3, but with the appearance of the Nationwide car, one could assume the Cup car would look the same.

Childress has been protective of the number used by his dear friend and driver Earnhardt. He watched the man known as the "Intimidator" drive to six of seven Cup series titles for him.

If anyone was to ever drive the No. 3 in NASCAR's premier series, it would have to be someone dear to Childress. It would have to be family.

The boss at RCR stated during testing at Daytona, "We don't know how many Cup races he'll (Austin) run because so much depends on sponsorship. We're going to give them both (Austin and Ty) some Cup races this year."

Fans of Earnhardt still sport worn merchandise that bears his image and number. It is not unusual to spot a vehicle on the road with a No. 3 decal.

It must be a tough decision for Childress to put the No. 3 back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series given the history of the car and its legendary driver.

Those who were fans of Earnhardt followed him because of his persona and, of course, his amazing ability as a race car driver. The No. 3 was secondary, so perhaps it is time to bring it back.

If Childress does put a driver in a car with the number that means so much to him, perhaps it is right that his grandson drives the car. It would not be right to put anyone in the car other than an Earnhardt or Childress family member.

The black Nationwide car that Dillon currently drives has been well received and he does justice to the car and its number. Fans may be ready to see the No. 3 back in the Cup series and just maybe it is time.