The Norman Transcript

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February 18, 2014

Famed No. 3 makes return at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Richard Childress pumped his fist above his head, emphatically celebrating his grandson’s latest accomplishment.

It was a rare show of emotion from the usually stoic team owner.

Then again, this moment was far from normal. Austin Dillon took the iconic No. 3 — the number the late Dale Earnhardt drove to 67 wins and six of his seven championships — out of pseudo-retirement and put it back atop the scoring tower at Daytona International Speedway.

Dillon might as well have grabbed the largest Earnhardt tribute flag ever made and waved it all around NASCAR’s most famous track.

“The 3 is special to all of us,” Childress said. “The family, the Earnhardt family, to every one of us, but I think it’s special because Austin, our family, is in the car.”

Dillon will be the talk of the Daytona — and of all of racing — for the next six days after winning the pole for Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500.

The famed number already was in the spotlight as Childress decided to put it back on track in the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since his driver and friend’s fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500. Dillon made its return an emphatic one.

“The legend of Dale has lived on for a long time and is going to continue to live on forever,” Dillon said before his pole-sitting run. “Dale Earnhardt is not just famous because of the number. He is Dale Earnhardt. He was a hero in everybody’s mind, including myself. ... That’s the coolest thing about everything that’s going on.”

Fans still lamenting the loss of Earnhardt may have mixed emotions about seeing another driver in the No. 3.

But those closest to the “Intimidator” welcomed its return.

“I think it’s great for Austin and Richard, grandson and grandfather being able to come together and doing something like that with a number that’s been in their family for so many years,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “It has a lot of history inside their family. ... I’m happy for them.

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