July 1, 2012
By Kim Roberson
As I watched the end of the Nationwide race on Friday night, it took a while for me to realize that if Austin Dillon won that race in Kentucky, it would mean that for the first time in 11 years, a black No. 3 would be the center of attention in the winner’s circle.
Oh sure, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won a Nationwide race in the No. 3 in Daytona two years ago, but that was in the blue and yellow Wrangler car.
This was the black No. 3. And much like its predecessor, this car dominated the field and seemed impossible to catch.
Dillon led 192 of the 200 laps in Friday night’s race -- breaking the previous record of 150 laps led by Carl Edwards back in 2005. It was the fourth-most dominant performance by a driver getting his first win behind Dale Jarrett, who led all 150 laps in August 1986 at Orange; Morgan Shepherd, who led all but two laps in May 1982 at Hickory; and Ryan Newman, who led all but six in August 2001 at Michigan.
Not bad for a kid who is also in the running for Rookie of the Year in the Nationwide Series.
The only black cloud over the win -- the team failed post-race inspection due to a too-low back end.
It is likely that they will be penalized Championship points and fined when penalties are handed out next week. But that won’t dampen the accomplishment of what Dillon has done in his short yet very successful career, and will likely just drive him and his team even harder to get that second win -- without the added penalties.
Austin Dillon has wanted to drive that black No. 3 since he decided he wanted to race cars for a living. He doesn’t see it as Earnhardt’s former car, but his Pop Pop’s. His Pop Pop is Richard Childress, who did indeed drive that No. 3 before giving up driving and founding Richard Childress Racing (RCR).
Ricky Rudd raced the No. 3 before Childress put Earnhardt in it back in 1983. But regardless of the number of men who actually piloted that number, fans have seen it as Earnhardt’s, while Dillon has seen it as his grandfathers.
"I love running the 3," Dillon said after the race Friday. "It pressures me every week to give 110 (percent)."
For many of the years since Earnhardt’s death, fans said the only person they would ever want to see behind the wheel of that car was Earnhardt, Jr. They claimed they could never envision anyone else driving that black car with the No. 3 on the side.
Now, with the talent that Dillon seemingly has, fans might start seeing it as his.
“Nice seeing that 3 car back in Victory Lane. Nice job Austin Dillon,” noted one fan on Facebook after the race.
His competitors are certainly seeing the possibilities this 22-year old young man has.
"Austin Dillon, he was in his own zip code," commented Kurt Busch, who finished second to Dillon Friday night. "So congratulations to him, Richard Childress, those guys. It's neat to see that kid develop.”
“Dale would have been proud,” commented the proud Pop Pop after the race. "I couldn't be prouder as a grandfather and a team owner. I know Dale's looking down smiling to see that 3 win tonight."
I bet he is as well.
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.