Dillon claims he understands the pressure. And in fairness, each step of the 19-year-old's progression from racing hobbyist to professional has been inevitably tempered by claims of nepotism. But driving the No. 3 in the minors twice is a different matter than the full trucks season he's about to undertake. The number -- which has 97 wins at NASCAR's highest level, third-best all-time -- has been entered in a NASCAR top-three event just four times since Earnhardt was killed on Feb. 18, 2001 during the last lap of the Daytona 500. It was used twice by
Now it's his. But then again, it's not. The scrutiny? Yes, that's all his.
"There's always going to be people taking about it," admitted the 2008 NASCAR Camping World East Series Rookie of the Year. "I like the pressure of racing it. There's just more to it, I guess."
Even Dillon's grandfather hedges about whether Dillon would use the number if he ever advanced to the Sprint Cup series. Nationwide, perhaps. Childress, who yearly leases the use of the number from NASCAR, said he's inclined to save that digit for "if an Earnhardt comes along some day, a grandson or a great grandson or whatever."
Childress said there are no plans to use the number 3 in the Sprint Cup series, and had to break it to his grandsons Austin and Ty very early on that a number they so associated with their family was being saved for a member of a different family. Childress also raced the 3, but never won with it in the Cup series.
"When they started racing Bandoleros, I asked, 'Well what number do you want?" Childress recalled. "Austin says, 'I want your number.' I said, 'Well, that was number 3, you know that was Dale's number.' He understands that. He understands the pride that goes behind it and he understands that Dale made it famous and we're all still honored to have it in the family.'