The #3 Car Comes Full Circle in NASCAR

After years away from the sport, the #3 is back in Victory Lane in the Cup Series. With a deep history, the number has finally come full circle again in NASCAR.
Austin Dillon
Numbers mean everything in racing. From the position on course to the time on pit road, numbers mean so much to a team, driver and fan. Perhaps no number is more important though than the number on the racecar and the history that comes with it. Numbers like #43, #24, #11, and #28 are steeped in rich history in NASCAR. And finally the #3 has returned to its glory.
On Sunday night (make that early Monday morning), Austin Dillon made the fuel last to win the Coca-Cola 600, his first win in the Cup Series. It was the second win of the season for Richard Childress Racing, but the first for the famous #3 since the late Dale Earnhardt raced before his passing in 2001. This generated a mix of reactions on social media.

While some fans bemoaned the victory as an assault on Dale Earnhardt’s legacy and a win only for the silver spooned grandson of owner Richard Childress, others celebrated the win for just the 28th driver to now have won in all three national series. The victory shows how the #3 and its use in the sport has truly come full circle, from a symbol of mourning to part of the future.

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.