By Caleb-Ryan Davis
Starting from the late 1980s there was one car that dominated the NASCAR circuit and held the attention of fans week in and week out and for more than a decade; that was the #3 car of Dale Earnhardt. On Feb. 18, 2001, Richard Childress Racing, along with the entire racing family, lost Earnhardt. By February 19 they realized they were going to need a driver for the iconic #3 car.
Eight days after the death of one of racing’s most decorated drivers, Kevin Harvick, who was supposed to race full time in the nationwide series for one more year was placed into the driver’s seat of Earnhardt’s car. This time as the 43 car field rolled out onto the track there was a #29 in place of the #3.
The favored #3 didn’t disappear. Two weeks after entering the highest level in the NASCAR circuit Harvick was burning rubber on the front stretch of Atlanta Motor Speedway with three outstretched fingers to the sky. Now, 13 years later, he has finally achieved the elusive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Now a member of Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick still hugged a teary eyed Richard Childress who put Harvick in the seat of Earnhardt’s car. It was a year in which a new playoff format of racing was introduced that eventually granted Harvick the championship after winning the last race of the season this past Sunday at Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway. It was also a year where we saw the return of the #3, but this time in the form of Austin Dillon, who is the first driver to use the number since Earnhardt’s death in 2001.
As Harvick completed the slowdown lap immediately after the race, he came back to the start/finish line on the front stretch to crew members standing on the wall that protects the pit crews from the racing surface. It was not just members from the Budweiser and Jimmy Johns #4 team, but members from multiple teams, all of them reaching to give their congratulations to a deserving driver.