DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It's been one of the most debated topics of NASCAR's offseason: should the number three car return to the track?
"That's not just a number," said Clint Bowyer. "Not to me anyway. A man gave his life to this sport in that number."
That man is Dale Earnhardt, a seven-time Sprint Cup series champion. Earnhardt died in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500. The number went dark on the circuit for thirteen years, but this year it's in the hands of 23-year-old Austin Dillon.
"It just seems right that's its happening and I think that it's great for Austin," said Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. "He's a good kid who's going to carry himself professionally and do a good job representing himself and I think it draws good attention to the sport and helps the sport get healthy."
Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress, the car's owner during Earnhardt's glory days. Childress also drove number three before Earnhardt. Dillon wore the number growing up as a kid and was a fan of Earnhardt. In fact, when Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in 1998, a seven-year-old Dillon stood with him in victory lane.
"The history and the legacy of the number is so important and we just want to add to it," said Dillon. "I think getting into the car for the first time will be very special and getting that first lap and getting back into my element and that's driving so I can't wait to do that."
Dillon is no stranger to the number three car…and success. He used the number en route to the Truck Series championship in 2011 and the Nationwide Series championship in 2013.
"We've been running for four years now in the Nationwide and the Truck series and won championships with it. I think it's the right time to move up to the cup series for me. That's what's special about this moment is getting to be in the Cup series."
And Dillon is off to a good start in the Sprint Cup series. Last Sunday, he won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a lap of 196.019 miles per hour.
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