Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No. 3 Wins Again

When Austin Dillon picked up his first career Camping World Truck Series win on Sunday in the Lucas Oil 200 at Iowa Speedway, he gave truck owner and grandfather Richard Childress yet another win for the No. 3.

It was the second time in as many weeks that number found Victory Lane in one of NASCAR's three national series; on July 2, Dale Earnhardt Jr. piloted a special No. 3 blue and yellow Wrangler paint scheme to victory in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona. Junior was adamant afterward that he would never run the number his late father made famous again, but Dillon runs the number full-time in the Truck Series.

Not only that, but Dillon runs the black No. 3.

His truck isn't sponsored by GM Goodwrench -- that honor goes to Bass Pro Shops, which means a little camouflage is mixed in with the trademark black -- but to see a black No. 3 back on the track in one of the national touring series has to be a big deal. Dillon understands the importance of the number, but he seems to enjoy running the number.

Dillon is seventh in points after 10 races, having won three straight poles. In picking up that first win on Sunday in Iowa, Dillon led 187 of 205 laps. He may not have intimidated the field, but Dillon certainly dominated it.

Dillon has run the No. 3 throughout his career, and assuming he makes it all the way to the Sprint Cup Series -- and also assuming he keeps driving for Childress -- there is some question, and debate, as to whether he should bring the number with him. NASCAR does not retire numbers; ultimately, the fate of the No. 3 rests with Childress, who still owns the number.

The number has not been in the Cup Series since Earnhardt Sr. died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Since, the Intimidator's car has sported the No. 29 with Kevin Harvick behind the wheel, and it's seen a litany of paint schemes. White, black and silver, now red and yellow ... Childress has been careful not to bring the paint scheme or the number back to the series.

Emotionally, it's easy to say that Childress should never run that number in the Cup Series again. Running a No. 3 in either the Truck Series or Nationwide Series is seen as okay, because they are lower-level series and it can be seen as an appropriate tribute to a NASCAR legend.

A lot of people would love to see the black No. 3 back in the Cup Series -- some want Junior to drive it (as if he doesn't have enough pressure to deal with), while a lot of other fans would just as soon never see that car again. Either it's too painful to see that car with another driver in it, or fans think it wouldn't be appropriate.

Other legends have driven the No. 3 before Senior -- Junior Johnson and David Pearson among them -- but to many NASCAR fans, that number will always be synonymous with the late Dale Earnhardt. And I'm fine with that.

Honestly, I like Dillon. He seems like a good kid, he's obviously got a wealth of driving ability and he doesn't seem burdened by the legacy painted onto the side of his car. It helps that he doesn't share the Earnhardt name, and that he was in middle school when Senior died, but Dillon genuinely seems to enjoy running that number.

So as far as I'm concerned, Childress should let Dillon run that number as long as he wants. If that means bringing it back to the Cup Series in a couple years, then so be it. Who know? Dillon might be able to make it his own, just like Senior did.

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