Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 2/17/14

MADISON, IL - JULY 16: Austin Dillon, driver of the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series CampingWorld.com 200 at Gateway International Raceway on July 16, 2010 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
  NASCAR Gen 6 Hitting the tarmac at Daytona for the first time since 2001, the legendary number three car made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt is back at the top of the pole. But, did it ever actually leave? Austin Dillon, who is driving for his grandfather Richard Childress, took over on Sunday with a lap of 196.019 mph. Dillon, 23, who won the 2011 trucks title and the 2013 Nationwide title, is now a full-time Cup racer for Richard Childress Racing. The number has not been seen at Daytona International Speedway since 2001 when Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500. The return of the three car has drawn a range of emotions from NASCAR fans everywhere. Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500 driving the number three car, along with 67 races and six other titles. Is it disrespectful to have another driver representing that number? Or would a devoted NASCAR champion, like Earnhardt, really want the number to be retired for good? There are fans that wanted the number retired to honor him but there are others who believe that having the number back on the race track honors the legacy that he left behind. It is no secret that Earnhardt will always be remembered as a NASCAR hero, so should fans really be upset? I think that the fans should be happy with the decision to put the number back on the track and I do not think it was meant in a hurtful and uncaring way. I think that is something that Earnhardt would smile about. When you have a love for something, like Earnhardt did for racing, you don’t want to see that come to an end. His number will always be his number, there is no question about that. In a way, I feel that the focus of the fan base on the number is taking away from the fact that Dillon won the pole and is a fantastic young driver in his own right. Critical fans on Twitter are saying things like “disrespectful to dale sr not to retire #3” and “that 3 belongs to Sr no matter what. He (Dillon) can win 20 cups and it will still be Srs #.” But, everyone already knows that the number three will forever be Earnhardt’s; the point here is that Dillon won the pole. Dillon’s goal is not to take away Earnhardt’s legacy, it is to make sure it continues to go on. I think this is what the fans need to remember. They need to remember that Earnhardt will always be number 3, but right now, so is Dillon.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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