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Editor's Note: Austin Dillon has just started his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series and has already experienced plenty. Dillon reflects on being the driver for the iconic No. 3's car return to the series as well as the Daytona 500, his relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and what he hopes this year will bring.
There's been a lot of buildup to the iconic No. 3 car's return. My grandfather and car owner, Richard Childress, had a lot of concerns.
Before Daytona 500 qualifying, my crew chief Gil Martin and I said, "Calm down, you're nervous."
He said, "I'm not nervous; I'm concerned."
You've got to have blinders because you want to stay focused and run well with the No. 3. Everybody wants to see it perform, and that's why my grandfather is always concerned.
I love getting in the No. 3 car and driving it. Once we get through some of these races at the beginning of the year, everything will sink in. I'll get comfortable and be able to have some fun. Some may question why I'm in the No. 3. There's always going to be an opposite side to every story. That’s what creates the buildup and anticipation, and that debate is what NASCAR is about.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been so supportive of me bringing back the No. 3. I've gone to him for a lot of advice lately, and I can't thank him enough. He's been a little bit of a bigger brother right now.
It made this whole transition a lot easier. If we didn't have him on board, it would have definitely been tough to do this.
I want to thank him and congratulate him on his second Daytona 500 victory. That was an awesome race. He led a ton of laps.
On Sunday, the yellow Sunoco rookie stripe on the bumper showed a little bit, but we made it through it. After we got in the wreck, I don't know how we didn't hit the wall. The car had a little damage, but it was just a lot freer. The car was still fast, just a little loose. All in all, it was a great start for our season, and hopefully we can carry it.
It's so important that Richard Childress Racing and ECR Engines had the front row. All of our cars were fast. That makes it even better. Starting the year off with a pole brings momentum, and I'm so happy to be working with Gil and all of our guys.
At our Nashville test, it was fun just to sit back and watch them work. They're so experienced and good at what they do. I know I'm the young guy out of the group, the rookie of the group, and I really think I'm going to learn a lot this year from these guys.
Coming to the shop my entire life, you're talking about a different era at RCR now, and I have something invested in it because it's my family. I really want everybody over there to do well, and I know almost all the employees because I'm there every day. I work out with them. I go mess around, and I've had projects for school built at RCR, crazy stuff like that.
The first thing I ever did there was work with our yard facilitator. They didn't let me mow because they wouldn't trust me on the mower so they handed me a weed eater.
There's this big hill behind the museum full of monkey grass -- really thick, yellow grass. I was probably only 12 or 13, and it was up to my knees. I weed-eated that whole hill that day. Since that day, it hasn't been weed-eated. It's back to monkey grass. Someday I guess I've got to get back into weed-eating again.
I try and stay away from the cars because I don't want to do anything with that, but just knowing how things are run and how everybody is doing and working together, that's really important with all of our new technical partners and teammates.
Dow, my primary sponsor and one of our technical partners, developed new runners for USA Luge, helping Erin Hamlin become the first American to earn an Olympics medal in singles luge when she earned bronze earlier this month in Sochi, Russia. Now, they have a pole at the Daytona 500.
We've got to work together to be successful every week. I was able to keep the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series shops really tight together, pulling in one direction. Everybody has to run well and help each other to be better. Hopefully we can do that in the Sprint Cup shop.
It's a long season. There are a lot of ups and downs, and Daytona will be one of the top points, obviously starting off strong. We want to carry that momentum going forward, but I just have to stay grounded and have fun.
We have a lot to learn. That's what this year is about: experience, trying to finish races and getting better each week.