NASCAR is a sport where numbers are everything, whether it’s lap times, speeds, or RPMs. But no number means more than the one on the side of the car.
Just like any other sport, there are numbers that hold a special place in the hearts of NASCAR fans. The number 23 is often associated with Michael Jordan in the NBA. The number 12 is often associated with Tom Brady in the NFL. And in NASCAR, no other number means more to fans than the number 3.
Dale Earnhardt single-handedly changed the sport of NASCAR for years to come. His on-track attitude, mixed with his off-track blue-collar, small-town demeanor helped capture the hearts of fans everywhere.
Earnhardt was loved off the track but feared on it. Seeing the black Goodwrench #3 car in the rearview mirror was not a good sign for drivers.
This all changed in the 2001 Daytona 500. The man they called “The Intimidator” was using his driving skills in a different way. Earnhardt, led by his son Dale Jr. and good friend Michael Waltrip, was doing everything he could do to keep the other cars behind him.
On the last lap, he made contact with the #36 car of Kenny Schrader, forcing him into the outside wall and resulting in his death.
After Earnhardt’s death, car owner Richard Childress made the decision to replace the legendary driver, and he selected Kevin Harvick. When the decision was made to bring in Harvick, the decision was also made to change the car’s number from #3 to #29.
In NASCAR, there are no official retired numbers. Teams can buy the rights to a number and then use it as they please. Childress could have sold the rights to the number 3, but he decided to keep it under his control as a reserve. Many fans believed that, out of respect for Earnhardt, nobody should ever drive the #3 car again.
But this all changed when Austin Dillon made his way through the ranks.
Dillon, grandson of Childress, was surrounded by racing from a very young age. He would go to races and hang around the teams as they prepared. He was even there for Earnhardt’s triumphant Daytona 500 victory in 1998.
Dillon became close with his grandfather’s drivers when he was young, and that led him to drive the #3 car in the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series before he made his way up to the Cup Series.
In 2013, Childress announced that Dillon would be competing in his first full Cup Series season in 2014. Up until this point, Childress had kept the number 3 in his reserve as an unofficially retired number. But Dillon, who had become very familiar with driving #3 cars in honor of Earnhardt, was given the iconic number to use.
Some fans were not happy with the decision. They believed that nobody should ever drive the #3 car again out of respect for the late seven-time champion. But Childress has stood by his decision and kept Dillon in the #3 Chevrolet for his entire Cup Series career.
Austin Dillon is now 32 years old and may still have many years left in the Cup Series. But what will happen to the #3 car when he retires? Although it’s been many years since Earnhardt’s death, many fans still believe that the number 3 should be retired.
As stated before, no number has been officially retired in the Cup Series. Retiring the number 3 would either mean that Childress changes the car number once Dillon retires, or NASCAR steps in and retires the number across the whole series. We have seen this in sports before, with MLB retiring Jackie Robinson’s number 42.
But whether it’s retired or not, the slightly slanted number 3 will always remind fans of the great Dale Earnhardt.