February 27, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
The two most iconic numbers in NASCAR were made famous by its most iconic drivers, Dale Earnhardt with the No. 3 and Richard Petty with the No. 43. For the first time in several years both of those numbers will be on cars in the Nationwide Series.
The RCR No. 3 hasn't been used in the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis since Ron Hornaday Jr. drove it in 2000. The Petty Enterprises No. 43 has never been a full time entry in the Nationwide Series.
However both of those numbers are ripe with history for every NASCAR fan alive. When Dale Earnhardt passed away tragically at Daytona in 2001, the popular sentiment afterwards was that the number should never be used again.
The last time No. 3 went to Victory Lane when Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove a replica of one of his father's cars in the July 2010 Nationwide Daytona race. It was a collaborative effort between Richard Childress Racing, Teresa Earnhardt, JR Motorsports, and Hendrick Motorsports, and a move that paid off greatly for everyone involved.
After the race, Earnhardt said that it would be the final time he drove a car with that number on it. Many fans believe that no one should ever drive it again unless their name is Earnhardt.
The No. 43 has a rich history all its own, made famous by Richard Petty in the Cup Series. Still, there are quite a few car numbers with significant history, such as the No. 11 car. It has been driven by Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, Darrell Waltrip, and Bill Elliott. It's currently being driven in the Cup Series by Denny Hamlin.
The No. 88 that is currently being used by Dale Earnhardt Jr., has a significant history as well. Benny Parsons has driven it, as had Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip and most recently before Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett. All are great drivers and many drivers use several numbers throughout their career.
So what, if anything makes one number more significant than any other?
This season, the No. 3 will be on the car of Richard Childress' grandson, Austin Dillon and the No. 43 will be driven by Michael Annett in the Nationwide Series. Both are young drivers are eager to make contributions to the history of those car numbers.
Yet sports teams sometimes retire jerseys of their greatest players. Should NASCAR consider doing the same in the case of the Nos. 3 and 43?
Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., has said several times that he doesn't believe the No. 3 should be retired. How else will any other drivers be able to add their names to those car numbers? Should Denny Hamlin not be driving the No. 11 because of the list of great drivers who have piloted it before him? Hardly not. If NASCAR retired every number with a great history, there wouldn't be that many left.
Yet on the other hand, there is a case for retiring those numbers.
They are synonymous with two names and two names only. Simple because of the contributions and achievements of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, NASCAR should look into retiring those numbers. It would be a fitting tribute to each man's accomplishments, because without those two drivers, NASCAR would not be what it is today.
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
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.