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Why Dale Jr. Is Back in the No. 3 at the South Carolina 400

The Bass Pro is in Dale Sr.'s 'lane' but Junior still sees it as the No. 3 he raced.


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"I can pretty much say I'm 99 percent sure I'll probably never drive a car with a 3 on it again. It's not [my number] to take and use whenever I feel like using it. You just don't grab the car keys and run out the door and haul down the road with your dad's car. I didn't do it when he was alive, and I won't do it now."

This year has been the one percent that Dale Earnhardt Jr. envisioned, but even that comes with a caveat.

That quote came from Earnhardt prior to winning the summer NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona in 2010 in a No. 3 prepared by JR Motorsports under a partnership with Richard Childress Racing and sponsored by Wrangler Jeans.

And when he won that race, he took the sentiment even further.

"I'll never do it [again]. I'll never rethink it. I'll never consider it," Earnhardt said during his post-race press conference that night. "I think it's important for everybody to know that's as concrete as it gets. I enjoyed it, but it's hard for me. It's a balancing act between the public and me and my own feelings. It was real emotional, preparing for it and putting it together."

All of this is to provide context to why Earnhardt ran the Sun Drop No. 3 in the CARS Tour race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in August and why he is running the Bass Pro Shops throwback No. 3 this weekend at Florence in the South Carolina 400.

In short, this is different because this is his No. 3, closer in spirit to the cars he drove as a youngster in his initial Late Model Stock days.

"I think for me, the Late Model Stock Car is a bit removed from the giant spotlight of NASCAR, and the Cup and Xfinity Series," Earnhardt told Racing America. "I didn't want to really look like an opportunist, someone that is taking advantage of the legacy of what dad built with that number but I ran the number in the Late Model Stock Series and the Xfinity Series.

"So when we came back and ran the Late Model Stock at Wilkesboro and with Sun Drop, that was my car, you know? That was more me than dad, so I had a lot of comfort and no worries about that."

At the same time, he concedes that running a wrap designed to pay homage to the car his father raced in The Winston back in 1998 inches closer towards what he initially didn’t want to do, but also said it was just a paint scheme he really wanted to race at some point.

It’s also a cool design and also a fun way for Earnhardt to kick off a partnership with Johnny Morris that extends into their Late Model Stock program for the 2023 season.

"This is getting in dad’s lane a little bit," Earnhardt said. "But with our Bass Pro partnership and their involvement in our grassroots program, it was also critical to flip some switches and pull some levers, right?

"Johnny also loves the legacy of this car and the colors but I still feel like, because it’s a Late Model, that when we get on track at Florence, that this is my No. 3, you know?"

Earnhardt says he would like to run a Mom ‘N Pops throwback or maybe even the AC Delco colors again. Earnhardt hopes to race three- or four-times next year in addition to his two Xfinity Series races booked for 2023.

But it’s the short track racing that he wishes he had returned to sooner after ending his full-time NASCAR career in 2017. JR Motorsports has operated a Late Model Stock team for quite awhile and has dominated the Mid-Atlantic over the past decade with Josh Berry.

Earnhardt has admitted over the past several years that he was a little trepidatious about getting back into a Late Model Stock over how competitive he would be. Those concerns were assuaged at Wilkesboro when he finished third to full-time JR Motorsports driver Carson Kvapil and Mason Diaz in Racetrack Revival.

It’s something that Berry had been wanting him to do for a long time and served as the crew chief for that race.

"Wilkesboro was an amazing experience for me and it’s going to be hard to top," Berry said. "To go racing with him and to help him be as prepared as he can be is just a small token, a small way for me to give back to him for everything he’s done and I’ll do it anytime he wants.

"Florence is a place he’s had circled because he raced there as a kid and it should be a lot of fun."

It’s also a place Earnhardt tested at in 2020 and has a good feel for to, especially with Berry having finished second there in consecutive years to Ty Majeski and Chad Bryant Racing. All told, Earnhardt is just appreciative to his drivers for letting him moonlight in their cars every now and then.

"We've got fast cars and, and we've got a lot of momentum with Carson and Josh," Earnhardt said. "And the reason why the cars are fast is because of that team in Carson and what they try to achieve every week.

"So really, I'm so so lucky to be this guy that gets to show up, hop in the best car in the series, right? I'm trying to appreciate that. I should have done this a long time ago. I procrastinated and worried about getting my butt kicked, but I went and had such a great time and Wilkesboro, and it's like 'okay, I'm ready to go' and I hope to do it more."