In 2001, no one could stomach the idea of seeing the #3 back on track after the death of The Intimidator. Richard Childress Racing retired the number, planning to only use the number for family, likely another Earnhardt. Many thought they would never see the number return to the sport, unless Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a move from DEI. When he left for Hendrick Motorsports, it seemed like one would never see Junior race again in the #3.
As the years passed, more and more drivers came in and out of Richard Childress Racing without bringing back that famous number. Harvick, Bowyer, Blaney and others never touched the #3. Then enter the Dillon brothers, who began racing in the #3 as early as the K&N Pro Series, and eventually bringing it with them to the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. Ty Dillon still races occasionally in the #3 Chevy in the #2 series, while brother Austin Dillon took over the famous ride at the Cup level.
For the first three seasons of racing at the Cup level, Dillon did not stand out particularly in the #3, fading into the crowd of other drivers racing each weekend. Despite making the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2016, he was knocked out in the first round. Going into 2017, Austin Dillon was a face among the crowd of drivers looking for their first win. Now, he is among a growing list of first-time winners and contenders in 2017.