DEGROOT: Round The Track


SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In 2014, we are going to see something that we haven’t witnessed in 13 years…the No. 3 competing in the Daytona 500.

Yes, the iconic number made famous by Dale Earnhardt is back and the decision to return it to competition was met with both rapturous applause and intense criticism from the NASCAR fan base. This engrossing debate has me torn. Personally, I don’t know how to feel, but I do know what to think.

I was very young when Earnhardt died and there’s a part of me that never wants to see that car number race in Cup again. There’s no intelligent reasoning behind those feelings, but that’s just how it is. I have nothing against Austin Dillon or anything like that. The irrational and selfish Dale Sr. fan in me just doesn’t want to see it happen.

However, I realize that team owner Richard Childress is in the right here and I know that I just completely contradicted myself. Childress went about this as carefully and as professionally as possible to ensure he wouldn’t step on anyone’s toes. He didn’t have to do that, but he respected Earnhardt enough to make sure that he did this properly and I applaud him for how the situation has been handled.

The incontrovertible fact is that Austin’s entitled to this and people need to stop cringing every time they hear that term — entitlement. He is from the Childress bloodline and deserves to drive his family’s number. There’s not even a question in regards to his talent. He’s won both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide titles in a period of just four years. We want to look at the three as “Dale’s number,” but that’s not technically correct. He made it famous, yes, but he could have very well made the No. 96 famous if Richard Childress didn’t want to save money on paint in 1976.

When we look at the No. 21, do we call it “David Pearson’s number?” No, we call it the Wood Brothers’ number and although we want to look at it differently, No.3 is RCR’s number, too, and they should be allowed to use it if they choose to.

Running the number isn’t disrespectful to Earnhardt. It’s a tribute and a way to commemorate him. It’s the same concept as Dale Jr. running that throwback Wrangler scheme to celebrate his dad or when Aric Almirola ran the No. 41 in honor of Maurice Petty. If the Childresses and Earnhardts have no issue with it, then there’s no reason why anyone else should have a problem with it either.

Dale Earnhardt will always be remembered when the No. 3 is mentioned, but his tragic death shouldn’t warrant the retirement of a numeral that has been around since the inception of NASCAR in 1949. It’s time to move on and make some new history with the No. 3. Living in the past isn’t a way to live. Dale is gone, that doesn’t mean his number should be too.

Believe me Earnhardt diehards, I know how you feel, but please try to look at this objectively and with an open mind. It’s better this way. Also, don’t even attempt to pull the nepotism card because Austin has more than earned his place at the Cup level. That’s not even up for discussion. A contingent of people out there may want to argue that he’s not “worthy” of driving the No.3, but really, who is?

The unmitigated hate from some race fans against this talented, religious and well-spoken guy who is of impeccable character is superfluous and illogical.

Which is a better way to honor this fallen legend? Putting a plaque with the number three on it in the NASCAR Hall of Fame or watching it lead the pack around the high banks of Daytona Int’l Speedway once again?