Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Team owner Richard Childress' decision to run the No. 3 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with grandson Austin Dillon behind the wheel wasn't made lightly.
And as Childress reiterated Tuesday during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, the decision wasn't made recently either.
In fact, when Childress and seven-time Sprint Cup champion Dale Earnhardt discussed the prospect of Earnhardt's retirement in 2000, the future of the No. 3 Chevy was part of the conversation.
"That decision was actually made 14 years ago, when Dale and I were talking about his retirement, what he wanted to do when he retired, how he wanted to help me with the 3 and the team to go out and put a driver in it that could go out and win championships and win races," Childress said.
"It was not in the plans at all to put anybody in the car until the right person was there. Yeah, if Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. had wanted to do it, or Kelley Earnhardt, or Kerry or now Jeffrey, whoever -- it would be an Earnhardt or one of my family who would get in that 3 car.
"But that decision was made 14 years ago, as me and him sat in an old car there in the rain one day, talking about his retirement."
Earnhardt never got the chance to retire on his own terms. In February 2001, he lost his life in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500, and the No. 3 has been absent from the Sprint Cup series since.
Dillon has run the number in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, winning a championship in each, but its return to NASCAR's foremost series is an event of special significance -- and of no small controversy in some quarters of "Earnhardt Nation."
The debate aside, however, Childress already looks forward to the day the No. 3 makes its competitive return.
"That decision to bring the 3 back -- it's going to be really neat to see it out there that morning (at Daytona) when I walk out there," Childress said.
FRIDAY NIGHT SHOWDOWN
A major scheduling change for the May 16-17 Sprint All-Star Race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway will move the Sprint Showdown qualifying race from its traditional Saturday slot before the main event to a day earlier.
Pole qualifying for the All-Star Race will fill the Saturday time slot formerly held by the Showdown. Accordingly, the two drivers who transfer from the Showdown, as well as the winner of the Sprint Fan Vote (which will be announced Friday after the Showdown) will take part in time trials rather than be added to the back of the field as in previous years.
The change not only adds value to a Friday ticket, which also includes a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, but it also highlights enhances the focus on qualifying, with its mandatory four-tire pit stop and full-speed entry to and exit from pit road.
"I think with the excitement of that full-speed qualifying, if you haven't seen it before, you just realize how intense it is," CMS president Marcus Smith said. "That was one big factor. The other factor was that the Showdown was being confused by a lot of newer fans.
"They just really didn't realize what was going on with the Showdown versus the All-Star Race, so we wanted to simplify it and make that Showdown stand on its own, because it's a great race in itself. This actually gives more focus to the Showdown -- it does put it on Friday night. That's going to make Friday an awesome ticket."
The price of admission for Friday's action starts at $25, with children age 13 and under admitted free.
A GOOD IMPRESSION
Rookie Kyle Larson, who will make his debut in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet this year, can drive just about anything.
But who knew he had a gift for mimicry, too?
On Tuesday morning, Larson recounted last year's terse conversation with owner Chip Ganassi that included the offer to drive the No. 42. Larson's telling of the tale included a spot-on impression of his boss.
"If you know Chip, he's really quick about everything he says, so the phone call lasted probably 45 seconds," Larson said. "I was just driving down the road, and he called me. And I kind of maybe knew what the phone call was going to be about, so I pulled over.
"And he was like, 'Hey, it's Chip. Yo, you ready to drive the 42 next year?' I was like, 'Yeah.' And he was like, 'All right. Anything else?' Click. That's about how it went."
STAND-UP AS A STAND-IN