- Associated Press - Saturday, November 19, 2011

HOMESTEAD, FLA. (AP) - Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready to see the famed No. 3 car back on the track.

Car owner Richard Childress asked Earnhardt if it would be OK for his grandson, Austin Dillon, to drive one of NASCAR’s most revered numbers in the Nationwide Series next season. Earnhardt had no problem with it, and said Saturday he wouldn’t mind if Dillon eventually drove the No. 3 in the Sprint Cup Series.

Junior’s late father, seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, made the number famous while driving for Childress.

“I just look at it differently,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t look at the numbers tied to drivers as much as just the history of the number. The number is more of a bank, you know, that you just deposit history into. It doesn’t really belong to any individual. Austin’s ran that number and you can’t really deny him the opportunity to continue to run it. It just wouldn’t be fair.

“Dad did great things. He was a great ambassador for the sport and, we’re still as a whole, reaping the benefits of all he accomplished and what he did that put us in front of a lot of people.”

Childress drove the No. 3 before Earnhardt. Childress “retired” the number following Earnhardt’s fatal crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Dillon drove the No. 3 in the Truck Series this season and won the championship Friday night. Earnhardt Jr., as a tribute to his father, took the No. 3 to Victory Lane in the Nationwide Series at Daytona in July 2010. He said afterward he didn’t plan to drive the number again.

But he’s fine with others driving it, especially Dillon.

“There’s a lot of guys in the `50s and `60s that ran that number with success,” Earnhardt said. “It’s iconic when you put the colors and the style with it; it’s a little bit iconic to the sport. Austin is a good kid. He seems to have a great appreciation for what’s happening to him and what’s going on around him. And I would be happy if he wanted to keep doing that.

“He kind of had to know when he first started to run that number if he got this far into the deal, he would have to cross a few bridges like that and that was a tough decision I guess at first to start running the number for him, knowing what kind of pressures he might face down the road. But I think it would be fine by me for him to do that. I think that it’s got to get back on the race track one of these days. It just can’t be gone forever, you know.”


TANDEM BREAKUP? NASCAR is trying to break up two-car drafts that have become prevalent at high-banked tracks such as Daytona and Talladega. It might not be easy to do.

NASCAR held a test at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday, looking for ways to make tandem drafting more difficult before next year’s season opener.

“We would prefer to eliminate tandem racing in the manner it exists today,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said. “There is no question about that. We are working on rolling back the clock to traditional Daytona, Talladega races. We’ll have to see how that goes. I think the majority of fans would like to see that, and so would we.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of the drivers who participated in the test, said it’s easier said than done.

“I’m all for helping to make that happen. I think it’s going (to be) as hard as we think it will and hard as we imagine it will be after testing a little bit in Daytona. It sort of reiterated everybody’s fears _ that it’ll be a little bit more difficult to do than just flipping a few switches.”

Earnhardt said recently paved track surfaces are simply too smooth to break up tandem cars. But he believes weather elements could take a toll on Daytona.

“Hopefully, the Daytona area and the sand, it’ll really beat that track up, beat the surface up, blast it pretty good,” he said. “It just depends. There’s a lot of variables.”


BUSCH’S SCHEDULE: Kyle Busch has made no decisions about his participation in races next year below the Sprint Cup Series.

Busch has run a combined 36 races in the Nationwide and Truck Series _ winning 14 events _ but has not run in either series since he was suspended by NASCAR two weeks ago at Texas for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday, replaced Busch in the Truck and Nationwide events at Homestead. It’s the first time in Hamlin’s career he’s run all three series in the same weekend.

“Nice birthday present from Kyle,” he smirked. “This is for the birds. Some people like the hustle and bustle of a race weekend. … Looking at the schedule, I was just scratching my head having to be on track from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. straight _ it’s a job.”

But it’s a job Busch loves, and he’s always said if he’s at the track, he wants to be in the race. There’s been speculation that part of the fallout from the Texas incident will lead Busch to either cutback or curtail his participation in the two other series.

“We’re working through all of the schedules,” he said. “The schedules hadn’t been put together prior to Texas and still haven’t been put together yet either.”

Busch owns his own Truck Series team, and plans to field a Nationwide team next year.


RCR SHUFFLING: Richard Childress Racing will go down to three teams next season, and likely shuffle its crew chief lineup.

The team has fielded four Sprint Cup Series teams this year, but is shutting down the No. 33 team when Clint Bowyer leaves after Sunday’s race to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing. Team owner Richard Childress will let grandson Austin Dillon run select Cup events in 2012 in a fourth car.

The team is absorbing the Nationwide Series teams that Kevin Harvick Inc. fielded.

“There’s definitely a lot of things happening at RCR with the one Cup team going away,” Harvick said. “We’re adding three Nationwide teams and a Truck team so obviously there’s going to be some personnel changes and I think if we had gone out and won a championship you’d say you probably don’t need to do anything.

“But if we sit on our hands and don’t evaluate everybody’s position at this particular point I think we’d be fools. I would anticipate some changes.”

Childress has often swapped teams among his drivers as a way to shake up the organization, and there’s been speculation he’ll give Harvick the team Bowyer had used and crew chief Shane Wilson.


VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: Joe Gibbs Racing is ending the season with yet another disappointing Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, as neither Kyle Busch nor Denny Hamlin contended for the title.

Hamlin said he wasn’t sure what kind of changes it could lead to at JGR, but once again indicated he’s very comfortable with crew chief Mike Ford.

“I think me and Mike have had a lot of success together,” Hamlin said. “There are not many drivers and crew chiefs that have done better than us throughout our six-year run together. There’s something to be said about that.”

Hamlin has been paired with Ford since his 2006 rookie season, has won 17 races and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in last year’s championship race.

“When I look at our relationship, it’s pretty deep,” Hamlin said. “I feel like, with Mike, he’s helped me win a lot of races. It’s hard to sit there and point out anyone in the garage that I feel like can do a better job than him.”


QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: “I never thought that I’d say this, but I’m rooting for Tony Stewart,” Kurt Busch on the championship race between Stewart and Carl Edwards.

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