September 25, 2022

NASCAR is a sport where numbers are everything, whether it’s lap times, gears or RPMs. But no number means more than the one on the side of the car.

As in any other sport, certain numbers hold a special place in the hearts of NASCAR fans. Number 23 is often associated with Michael Jordan in the NBA. Number 12 is often associated with Tom Brady in the NFL. And in NASCAR, no other number means more to fans than number 3.

Dale Earnhardt single-handedly changed the sport of NASCAR for years to come. His on-track attitude, mixed with his blue-collar off-track, small-town attitude, has helped win the hearts of fans around the world.

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 the drivers.

Everything 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 to keep the other cars behind him.

On the final lap, he made contact with Kenny Schrader’s #36 car, 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 chose 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 retirement numbers. Teams can buy the rights to a number and use it as they see fit. Childress could have sold the rights to number 3, but he decided to keep it under his control as a reserve. Many fans believed that, out of respect for Earnhardt, no one should ever drive the #3 car again.

But everything changed when Austin Dillon rose through the ranks.

Dillon, grandson of Childress, was surrounded by racing from an early age. He went to the races and hung out with the teams as they prepared. He was even there for Earnhardt’s triumphant victory at the Daytona 500 in 1998.

Dillon became close to his grandfather’s drivers when he was young, which saw him drive the #3 car in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series before working his way up to the Cup Series .

In 2013, Childress announced that Dillon would compete in his first full Cup Series season in 2014. Until then, Childress had kept number 3 on his reserve as an unofficially retired number. But Dillon, who had become familiar with driving the No. 3 cars in honor of Earnhardt, was given the iconic number to use.

Some fans were unhappy with the decision. They believed no one should ever drive the #3 car again out of respect for the seven-time champion. But Childress stood by his decision and kept Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet for his entire Cup Series career.

Austin Dillon is now 32 and may still have many years left in the Cup Series. But what will happen to car #3 when he retires? Although many years have passed since Earnhardt’s death, many fans still believe that #3 should be retired.

As previously reported, no numbers have been officially retired from the Cup Series. Retiring number 3 would either mean Childress changing the car number once Dillon retires, or NASCAR stepping in and retiring the number series-wide. We’ve seen this before in sports, with MLB retiring Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.

But whether he’s retired or not, the slightly tilted No. 3 will always remind fans of the great Dale Earnhardt.