There is nothing official for the 2014 season, but all reports indicate that Austin Dillon will be driving a number 3 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This would be the first time that the number has run since Dale Earnhardt died in a last lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
The mere idea of Dillon running the number has been met with mixed responses from fans. One half say it’s time enough for the numbers return, the other half are opposed to the idea of using the number. In my opinion, it’s time to bring the number back.
The shock of Earnhardt’s death made it natural for owner Richard Childress to go in another direction for the rest of that year. Coping with a driver’s death is done in different ways by teams.
When Davey Allison died in July of 1993, team owner Robert Yates decided to skip the next race, but keep the #28 on the car. This came at the urging of Allison’s family. The same was done when Alan Kulwicki died earlier in the same year. Kulwicki was also the team owner, so the team was looked after by Felix Sabates until a buyer could be found, but also kept Kulwicki’s #7 on the car.
In 2000, Sabates was unfortunately put in the position once again as the direct team owner. Kenny Irwin, Jr. died during a practice crash at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Sabates owned team withdrew from that race and the next week had re-branded the car from #42 to #01. It wasn’t until 2003 did the #42 reappear, which came after Chip Ganassi bought a majority stake in Sabates’ team.
Petty Enterprises had to endure the same situation as Sabates when Nationwide Series driver Adam Petty also died a practice crash at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The team did not change the number, 45, but rather team owner Kyle Petty (also Adam’s father) decided that only he would be the only driver of a car with a number 45 on it. That was the case from then until the tail end of Petty’s career in 2007 and 2008 when he had Chad McCumbee fill in for some races.
It all comes down to how a team can cope with something that might be a constant reminder of a fallen teammate. For Childress and his team, the scar was large and painful for a very long time after not only losing a teammate, but a dear friend.
In Dillon, they have a driver who grew up with the number (Dillon is Childress’ grandson) and understand what it means to his father and fans. While he’s not Dale Earnhardt, Dillon will represent the number with respect and I think having a #3 back on the track will do a lot for fans to finally be able to get over the loss of a legend.