They say the hardest thing to do in sports is to replace a legend. But in NASCAR, a sport in which fans most commonly associate their favorite drivers with their car numbers, two numbers have a legacy that will long last the legendary drivers that made them famous: the No. 3 and No. 43.
Austin Dillon and AJ Allmendinger both enter the year in a NASCAR national touring series piloting the two most prestigious numbers the sport has to offer. When Dillon hits the track for tonight’s Truck Series season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 sporting the number Dale Earnhardt Sr. made famous – and Allmendinger in Richard Petty’s No. 43 for Sunday’s Daytona 500 – fans want results.
It’s a pressure Dillon is familiar with and comfortable with, piloting the No. 3 car throughout the short tracks ranks as the grandson to Richard Childress, former car owner for Earnhardt Sr.
“I love running it; I’ve run it in every series since I started racing. I’m comfortable with the number and I’m excited to run it in the Truck Series,” he admitted. “It’s fun to run. It comes with a lot of different things: the media, the fans… people love it. It’s something that’s close to a lot of people’s hearts and it’s close to my family’s. I feel like I’m fortunate to run it.”
Fans will get their first glimpse of the No. 3 on the high banks at Daytona since the tragic last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 and it will be the focal point of many long-time Earnhardt fans.
But will the No. 3 ever make it back to Sprint Cup?
“I guess that’s a question that other people have to answer. I don’t know,” Dillon said. “I like running it right now, and I’m comfortable with it. I just have to see how it goes from now on.”
Richard Childress sees a day when the number will return to NASCAR’s premier division, but not any time soon.
“You never say never, but right now we have no plans on bringing the No. 3 to Cup,” he said.
While the return of the No. 3 is highly anticipated, the No. 43 made legendary by 200-time winner Petty welcomes a new driver to its seat in Allmendinger. Allmendinger piloted the No. 44 for Petty last season, but admits driving the No. 43 is something even more special.
“It’s an honor for me to just be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports, but to have Richard pick me personally to be in his racecar, it’s an honor,” he said. “I’m a big auto racing fan and I love the history of the sport. I want to go out there and represent him both in and out of the racecar the best that I can.”
“Not speaking on his behalf, but if I could get the No. 43 in victory lane, it would mean the world to him. To get that No. 43 back in victory lane, whether I won 100 races or I never won again, I could take and be proud of.
A win for the No. 43 would mean a lot to both Petty and his longtime fans. But if Dillon can manage to pull out a win tonight, Earnhardt Sr. fans will reminisce about his amazing history at this famed 2.5-mile speedway and remember just what it’s like to cheer the No. 3 to victory lane.
That folks, wouldn’t just be timeless. It’d be priceless.
What You Need to Know About this Weekend’s Races
Qualifying and Race Coverage
All times Eastern
3 p.m. – Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 qualifying (ESPN2)
7:30 p.m. – NextEra Energy Resources 250 (SPEED)
Noon – DRIVE4COPD 300 (ESPN2)
Noon – Daytona 500 (FOX)
What’s the Odds?
Favorable bets for this weekend’s Sprint Cup race using BetUS.com as of Thursday night
Advice: Talk about a crapshoot on Sunday. What we learned from Thursday’s Duel 150 qualifying races is that there are literally 30-plus cars with a chance to win the Daytona 500. So why not throw money on some guys who have a shot for the win at extremely long odds? My advice is to bet your preferred amount on whoever you think the favorite is (mine’s Kahne) and some extra on a few long shots.
Frontstretch Live Blog
The Frontstretch live blog kicks off Friday night for the NextEra Energy Resources 250, returns Saturday afternoon at noon with live coverage of the Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300, and finishes off the weekend Sunday at noon for the Daytona 500. Make sure to stop by and join in the chat as your favorite Frontstretch writers breakdown all of the on-track action live from the Daytona International Speedway Media Center.
Drivers to Watch
Camping World Truck Series
Ron Hornaday Jr.: Never won at Daytona, but has run well.
Todd Bodine: Couldn’t get No. 27 in the Daytona 500, but has great shot to win tonight.
Dillon: Was fast in practice, No. 3 in Daytona victory lane would be special.
Nationwide Series (Nationwide-only drivers)
Danica Patrick: You know you’re interested… again.
Michael Annett: Has won at Daytona before… second fastest in Happy Hour.
Trevor Bayne: Has yet to race at Daytona, but has fast car and a lot of talent.
Parker Kligerman: Looking to make the most out of his limited opportunities this season.
Bobby Gerhart: Won ARCA race, but Nationwide is totally different animal.
Kahne: Has been fast since he unloaded and starts in row two.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Showed a fire on the radio Thursday I haven’t heard in a long time.
Jimmie Johnson: That car looked good on long runs in the Duels.
Michael Waltrip: Final Daytona 500 – Cinderella story?
Kevin Harvick: Has been up front in every session this week.
LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL
NextEra Energy Resources 250: Bodine
DRIVE4COPD 300: Carl Edwards
Daytona 500: Kahne
2010 Predictions: 3 races, 0 win(s), 2 top five, 2 Top 10
Have a prediction/thought on this weekend’s races? Send Mike a Tweet
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