Dillon to drive No. 3 Sprint Cup car for RCR
December 11, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Full coverage of RCR '3' announcement
CONCORD, N.C. -- Team owner Richard Childress made it official Wednesday, announcing that grandson Austin Dillon will field the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 2014.
Childress hasn’t fielded the No. 3 car on one of his Cup entries since the 2001 Daytona 500, the final race for seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
Dillon, 23, is the defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and a former Camping World Truck Series champion.
"It’s a huge responsibility," Dillon said Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Everybody knows who made this number famous. With my grandfather and his friendship, they were able to build something great that will never be touched.
"But we feel like bringing it back with my grandfather and RCR … it’s going to be special. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and effort at the shop and we’re prepared for everything that’s to come."
RCR officials unveiled two paint schemes featuring the iconic stylized 3 -- a black and white Chevrolet SS with sponsorship from Dow Chemicals as well as a black and yellow entry that carries the General Mills sponsorship of Cheerios. Childress added that Bass Pro Shops and Realtree would also return as Cup sponsors with the team.
Dillon’s move to Cup comes on the heels of the departure of Kevin Harvick, who has moved to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014. Gil Martin will remain with the team to serve as crew chief for Dillon.
"We’ve contended for championships, we’ve had wins … and I’m looking forward to doing that with Austin," Martin said. "I know he’s going to be capable of it.
"With everything involved, the new sponsorship, bringing back the three, it’s a little bit of a rejuvenation for me."
Organizations do not "own" the numbers used by their teams in NASCAR, and numbers in the sport are not retired. When Earnhardt died from the impact of an accident on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Childress eventually requested another number for the team to use going forward. However, he said he continued to pay for the rights to the number in case he chose to one day bring it back to the track.
"I’ve been paying NASCAR for it throughout the years," Childress said. "(Former NASCAR chairman) Bill France Jr. told me one day, 'you know if we’re ever challenged, we’ll have to let someone have that 3.' But we weren’t.
"I knew that the right opportunity … it would have to be an Earnhardt or one of the Childress family that we would put in behind it."
Dillon ran the No. 3 in the Nationwide and Truck Series; younger brother Ty Dillon ran the No. 3 in the Truck Series in 2013.
"I felt like we were prepared to do it," Austin Dillon said. "It’s the only number in the NASCAR garage that I’ve ever walked into and sat in.
"My grandfather, he’s done a great job of teaching me the way to handle certain responses to things … every time I sit in an autograph session, I’ve had somebody wondering if this was going to happen. They’re excited and we are too."
Childress said it’s understandable that not every Earnhardt fan will agree with the decision, but the majority his group has heard from is supportive.
"We do get some calls from people that say 'we don’t want to see it back,' but for every five of those, we get 95 positive," he said.
"What we’re hoping to do is win them over with the class that we’re going to bring the three back with. I don’t think you’ll ever win them all over. After a race on Sunday, no matter how good a race is, somebody’s going to call NASCAR and complain.
His former driver and close friend, he said, "is smiling down."
"He would want to see this three,” Childress said of Earnhardt. "He didn’t want to ever see it go away. But I felt like it was the thing to do right after Daytona (in ’01). I know today that he’s accepting this highly."