With the unveiling of Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving the No. 3 at Daytona in the Nationwide Series and Austin Dillion driving the No. 3 in the Truck Series, a lot of discussion has begun about the No. 3.
Should the No. 3 be retired? Should the No. 3 ever race again in Cup? Should Earnhardt Jr. be running it in the Nationwide race? Should Earnhardt Jr. run in the Cup Series? Should Dillion be running the No. 3 in the Truck Series?
Let’s just start this by looking at each question one at a time.
First: Should the No. 3 be retired?
Some say it should, due to the Earnhardt connection. Though others say it shouldn’t for other reasons.
"There's a guy somewhere whose daddy raced No. 3 forever on some short track, and it probably means as much to him as it does to me," Earnhardt Jr. said in a NASCAR.com article in 2004. "You've got to be fair about those type of things. I understand that, and I don't have a problem with it coming back one day."
Another reason to not retire it is the No. 3 isn’t the only number that holds a lot of history for what it stands for. If you retire the No. 3, don’t you have to retire the No. 43 due to Richard Petty? There are only so many numbers out there so if you start retiring numbers, sooner or later you’re going to run out of numbers to run.
Though looking at the number and NASCAR, Earnhardt isn’t the only driver to have driven that number. Back in 1975, John Soares Jr., Charlie Glotzbach, and Bobby Issac each ran the number. Then Childress ran the number from 1976 till 1981, when Earnhardt jumped on board.
So why is this a special case for Earnhardt? Simply—the mystic and fan base in the situation. Those two aspects are what make this as big as it is.
Second: Should the No. 3 Ever Race Again In Cup?
Both Earnhardt and Childress have been addressed this question on separate occasions and both have answered it—yes.
Earnhardt’s answer is as listed above, while Childress told Scene Daily in January of 2010 that he’d be okay with it happening if it was to be an Earnhardt to run it.
This is a discussion that also has been addressed to the Richard Childress Racing (RCR) drivers, in which Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick are in disagreement.
Harvick said that the number should be retired, while Burton said he’d be okay with it under the right situation.
“The No. 3 has a history to it and it has a heritage to it, and that history and heritage is not only linked to Dale Earnhardt but to Richard Childress Racing,” Burton told Scene Daily in January of 2010. “They collectively made the three a symbol of success and a commitment to do everything it took to win…It is such a huge part of our sport, it should only be back in the right situation.”
When asked about the right situation, Burton says he’s unsure, but it’d have to be a special situation.
“I don’t know,” Burton said. “It has to be a special situation…With Richard Childress involved, the Earnhardt legacy has to be involved, all those things have to come together. If all those things come together, it is not only a good thing to do, it is the right thing to do.”
Earnhardt Jr. did say a couple years back that if he were to run the No. 3 in the Cup Series, he’d run it the final year or two of his career.
Another opportunity is Jeffery Earnhardt, Kerry Earnhardt’s son who’s coming up through the ranks.
Third: Should Earnhardt Jr. Run the No. 3 in the Nationwide Series?
With the situation that has come about, I’d give this a thumbs-up to go ahead and do it. Earnhardt Jr. and party said today that they were only doing it to commemorate Dale Earnhardt’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and to celebrate his memory. Isn’t that a fair reason?
However, beyond that, a look at Nationwide Series history will show you why this would be alright.
Earnhardt Jr. ran his first full season of Nationwide competition in 1998, followed by another year in 1999. Both years he won the champion and oh, both years, he did run the No. 3 car. No, it wasn’t black but it was the No. 3 regardless.
Then in 2002, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and RCR teamed up to run the No. 3 in two Nationwide races: Daytona and Charlotte. The Daytona race in February turned out to be a win while the Charlotte race ended with a wreck. Everybody was okay with it then and most people liked the idea, so why the fuss this time?
Possibly it is due to how things have changed with Earnhardt Jr. leaving DEI. Possibly it is due to how this deal came together. Lastly, it could possibly be due to the paint scheme of the choice and how it is that of Earnhardt’s when he ran the Wrangler colors. You pick your reason.
Four: Should Earnhardt Jr. run in the Cup Series?
The answer to this is highly debatable and in my opinion, I’d say no. Fans already demand of him to be just like his father. If he were to run the No. 3 in the Cup Series, it’d just increase those expectations and he’d never get the chance to be his own person.
Also, add in the burden on his shoulders to perform just like this dad—I don’t think that’s something he needs after everything that he’s already dealt with.
Five: Should Dillion be running the No. 3 in the Truck Series?
Absolutely! The No. 3 was a number that Earnhardt only drove in the Cup Series, primarily. Earnhardt was never seen in a Truck race with the number.
Looking through the Truck Series history, the only time the No. 3 appeared in the Truck Series was on Mike Skinner’s truck while he was driving it for RCR. To add to that, it was black with the Goodwrench colors.
The No. 3 in the Truck Series is an RCR number so therefore it is right for RCR to be able to run it.
The situation also fits that of a “special situation” as Dillion is Childress’ grandson so therefore it has that correct Childress connection.
This is a debate that will keep NASCAR Nation in its gasp for years to come. Whether or not there is a correct answer, that has yet to be seen. Though however it works out through the years, the No. 3 will always hold that special magic with NASCAR Nation.