Richard Childress recently announced that he had hired Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon to be the replacements for Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick respectively in the Cup Series starting next year, joining Paul Menard.
Neither announcement was surprising as Newman was rumored to be headed to RCR as early as last July, once it was announced that he would not be returning to Stewart-Haas Racing. Dillon is Childress’ grandson, so it was a matter of when, not if, he would ever drive for his grandfather in the Cup Series.
It was the announcement of Dillon’s car number that had people upset.
It was decided that Dillon would use the number three for his Cup car. The three was made famous for Richard Childress by the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and no one has used the three in the Cup Series since Earnhardt’s fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500. For Earnhardt fans, the three will always be an Earnhardt number, whether it was Earnhardt, Sr. or Earnhardt, Jr. using it.
What should be remembered is that Childress was using the three long before Earnhardt, Sr. used it. Childress was a former driver from 1969 through August of 1981 and he used the three for two reasons: Save money on paint, and to honor his hero, Junior Johnson who had used the three on his car when he drove.
Earnhardt, Sr. took over the three from Childress at Michigan and finished the season in the three. Earnhardt left at the conclusion of the season and Ricky Rudd climbed into the three for the next two seasons. Earnhardt returned in 1984 and it was on from there as he piled up 67 wins and six titles during his time in the three from 1984 to 2001. Now after a 13-year hiatus, the three will return to the Cup Series with Austin Dillon behind the wheel.
Dillon comes into the Cup Series with an impressive resume. He won the 2010 Camping World Series Truck Series Rookie of the Year award and he picked up two wins at Iowa and Las Vegas. Then he turned around and won the 2011 Camping World Truck Series championship thanks to wins at Nashville and Chicagoland. After the success in the Truck Series, Dillon moved up to the Nationwide Series in 2012.
Dillon finished third in the final standings in 2012 after sweeping races at Kentucky. Dillon led the series in top-10 finishes that season and won the 2012 Nationwide Rookie of the Year. In his sophomore season, much like his sophomore Truck Series year, Dillon won the 2013 Nationwide Series championship by three points, outdueling Sam Hornish down the stretch. What made winning the 2013 Nationwide Series title more impressive for Dillon is that he won it without winning a race.
Yes, the 2013 Nationwide Series champion did NOT win a race during the season. (Whether or not this championship should be labeled with an asterisk is a topic for another week.)
Given his results, I believe that Dillon has proven himself so far up to this point in his racing career. Yes, I understand that it comes in equipment that is not only top-notch, but bankrolled by his grandfather.
I don’t believe that Richard Childress would have put Dillon in such good equipment if he didn’t think Dillon couldn’t get the job done. He has gotten the job done to this point. Now it is time to see what Dillon is made of. He is climbing into a car that has challenged for race wins and championships in recent years with Kevin Harvick behind the wheel and he is using a number that struck fear into the hearts of competitors when it was being piloted by what many would consider to be the greatest stock car driver ever. Those are big shoes to fill, but based on past results, I think Dillon will be a success in the Cup Series for years to come.
David Barr is an intern at Berks-Mont Newspapers and is a graduate of Daniel Boone H.S. He is currently studying at Mansfield University.