FORT WORTH, Texas – Richard Childress is bringing back the No. 3 car full time into the NASCAR Nationwide Series next season with his grandson, Austin Dillon, moving up from trucks.
Dillon has used No. 3 in the Camping World Truck Series, where he is the season points leader, but this will be the first time the No. 3 will be regularly used on a car since Cup champion Dale Earnhardt's death at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"Dale made that number famous," said Childress, who drove the No. 3 himself from 1976-81 before Earnhardt, a seven-time champion.
Childress quickly said Friday that there are no intentions now to take the No. 3 back to "Cup with Austin someday." Dillon could drive some races in NASCAR's top level next season.
Before deciding to use the No. 3 on a car again, Childress spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won consecutive Nationwide championships (1998-99) in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Then, Dale Jr. won Nationwide races in the No. 3 for Childress at Daytona in 2002 and 2010.
"Austin is taking the next step in his career by moving to the Nationwide Series," Earnhardt said. "He has used the 3 predominantly throughout his career, and I for one am excited to know he'll be running it at the next level. He's a sharp kid with a lot of potential. The respect he shows the sport and his competitors is a reflection of the family values that has molded him into the person he is today."
When Dillon first got into racing as a kid, he told his grandfather that he wanted to use his number.
"How are you going to tell your grandkid no to something," Childress said. "That's how we got him that."
Childress said there is a picture in his office with Dillon standing on the Daytona 500 trophy in 1998.
"He's holding his fingers up right next to Dale looking," Childress said. "I know (Earnhardt) would be proud."
The return of the No. 3 was part of an announcement of a sponsorship deal with Richard Childress Racing and AdvoCare, a health and wellness company that will be Dillon's primary sponsor for 20 races next season.
The 21-year-old Dillon made his Nationwide debut in 2008 and has four top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
"The way we laid the plan out, we didn't want to carry him too fast," Childress said. "I've seen so many good young talented drivers come along that would be pushed into a series. ... We've watched him, we felt he was ready."
Richard Childress is returning to the Nationwide Series after a one-year hiatus. The team won 56 races in the series since 2000, with Kevin Harvick (2001, 2006) and Clint Bowyer (2008) winning driver championships.