Though not everyone is happy with No. 3's return, Austin Dillon pleased to drive famous car number.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Just seconds after Austin Dillon hopped into a director's chair for his turn at NASCAR's annual Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway, the questions about his car number began.
After all, the No. 3 car's return to the Sprint Cup Series is even more of a topic than Dillon's rookie season itself.
Dillon, who has been answering questions about the No. 3 since long before the move was officially announced in December, said he remains respectful toward the legacy of Dale Earnhardt – the last driver to race it until his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
The No. 3 has not appeared in a Cup race since then, though Dillon has won a Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series title with it.
"The legend of Dale is going to continue to live on forever," Dillon said. "Dale Earnhardt was not just famous because of the number, he was Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody's mind, including myself."
Dillon is driving the No. 3 because his grandfather, Richard Childress, was the car's owner during Earnhardt's glory days. Childress also drove the 3 before Earnhardt, and Dillon used it as a family number growing up in a variety of team sports.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., a friend of Dillon's, is among those who have given their blessing to the No. 3's return. But not all members of the Earnhardt family are in full support.
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"I have mixed feelings because I was told that I would never see a No. 3 on the racetrack after Dale died," Earnhardt Sr.'s mother, Martha, told Fox Sports 1's NASCAR Race Hub on Wednesday. "I know it was Richard's number when he drove and this is his grandson, and I understand that.
"I can sort of deal with it, but I don't want to see the black No. 3 just like Dale's. But that's not my decision."
Dillon, asked about Martha Earnhardt's comments, said he respects everything the Earnhardt family has to say. He said Childress has been insistent the car will not be a black No. 3, and although sponsors Cheerios and Dow Chemical have some black in the car, it will never be more than 60% black this season.
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Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle, a self-professed Earnhardt Sr. fan, said he would have preferred to see NASCAR retire the No. 3 than race it again. But he said drivers wouldn't treat Dillon differently on the track just because of the number.
"I'd rather see it hung up on the wall at the Hall of Fame," Biffle said. "… We don't want to lose sight of (its significance) five years from now. Is it Austin Dillon or is it Dale Earnhardt? That's the way I look at it."
Dillon, who is one of two front-runners for rookie of the year in a talented and deep class, said all he can do is be respectful toward the Earnhardt legacy.
"Everybody's got their opinion," he said. "I hope we can win (the critics) over as time goes on. Hopefully, they're open enough to take a look at everything we're doing."