Concord, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The No. 3 car made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt is returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2014.
Richard Childress Racing introduced Austin Dillon as the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet for next season on Wednesday. Dillon is the 23-year-old grandson of NASCAR multi-team owner Richard Childress. He is moving up to the Sprint Cup ranks after winning the Nationwide Series championship this year.
Dillon's debut in the No. 3 will come in the Feb. 23 Daytona 500. That car number has not been used in NASCAR's top series since Earnhardt was killed in an accident during the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"I know today that Dale is smiling down and is proud of this announcement," Childress said.
Dillon's RCR team will be sponsored by Dow and General Mills' Cheerios brand as well as Realtree Outdoors, Bass Pro Shops, American Ethanol and University of Northwestern Ohio throughout next season.
Crew chief Gil Martin will guide Dillon's efforts during his Sprint Cup rookie season. Martin, who has been with RCR for 13 years, led Kevin Harvick to six appearances in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Harvick replaced Earnhardt after his fatal crash, while RCR changed the car number from 3 to 29.
Dillon drove the No. 3 in the Camping World Truck Series from 2009-11 and then Nationwide from 2012-13. He won the truck championship two years ago.
"Everybody knows who made this number famous, and with my grandfather and (Earnhardt's) friendship, they were able to build something great that will never be touched," Dillon said. "But we feel like with bringing it back, as my grandfather's grandson and working with RCR, it's going to be special.
"I feel like we put in a lot of hard work and effort at the shop, and we're prepared for everything that's coming. I'm so thankful that we were able to work with great sponsors like Dow and Cheerios to make this happen."
Dillon's younger brother, Ty, is graduating from trucks to Nationwide and driving the No. 3 next year.
Earnhardt, a seven-time Cup champion, drove the No. 3 for RCR from 1984 to the start of the '01 season (Daytona 500). Sixty seven of his 76 career wins in Cup came with RCR.
"It's so much heritage behind the history of the 3, with Dale Earnhardt, and Dale Earnhardt made it famous," Childress said. "My hope is that Dale Earnhardt fans will be re-energized again and say, 'Hey, it gives me something to look at.' You're not going to please everyone. We know that. You give someone a million bucks, and they're going to say, 'Why didn't you pay the taxes on it?' We're going to do our best to make them proud, and I know Austin will."
Dillon will team with Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27, and Ryan Newman, behind the wheel of the No. 31, at RCR. Harvick has moved over to Stewart-Haas Racing for next year after spending 13 seasons with Childress' organization. Newman is taking over Jeff Burton's seat after spending five years with SHR.