A significant milestone is in the making for one of NASCAR’s and Richard Childress Racing’s iconic numbers this weekend at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. When the NASCAR Cup Series makes its inaugural start at Daytona’s road course layout on August 16, the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Austin Dillon will reach 1,000 starts under the Richard Childress Racing banner in NASCAR’s premier series.
Having made 112 previous starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, Richard Childress first sported the No. 3 aside his own-operated car for the 1976 season. Competing the entire 30-race schedule, Childress earned 11 top-10 results, including a best result of sixth place at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in March, before he concluded the season in 11th place int he final standings. From 1977 to 1980, the No. 3 car driven by Childress earned a total of 44 top-10 results with a best points result of ninth place in 1977.
For the first 20 races of the 1981 season, Childress notched only one top-five result, a fourth-place result in the season opener at California’s Riverside International Raceway, and was ranked in 13th place in the standings following a 26th-place finish at Talladega’s Alabama International Motor Speedway. For the remaining 11 Cup races of the season, Childress retired from racing and turned over the driving responsibility of his No. 3 car to Dale Earnhardt, the 1980 NASCAR Cup Series champion from Kannapolis, North Carolina, who had a fallout with the late entrepreneur Jim Stacy. Earnhardt’s best results during his 11-race stint with RCR were a pair of fourth-place finishes at North Wilkesboro Speedway in October and at Riverside in November.
From 1982 to 1983, the No. 3 car owned by Childress was driven by Norfolk County, Virginia’s Ricky Rudd while Earnhardt competed for Bud Moore Engineering. After going winless in 1982, Rudd won at Riverside in 1983 and recorded the first NASCAR Cup Series career victory for Richard Childress as an owner. Rudd went on to win once more at Martinsville Speedway in September before he concluded the season in ninth place in the final standings.
In 1984, Earnhardt and Rudd swapped rides, with Earnhardt back as the driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. At Talladega in July, Earnhardt captured his first victory with RCR and he won another race at Atlanta in November before he concluded the season in fourth place in the final standings. After winning four races, recording 16 top-10 results and finishing eighth in the 1985 standings, Earnhardt drove RCR’s No. 3 car to five victories, 23 top-10 results and the 1986 Cup championship, which marked the second title for Earnhardt and the first for Childress.
From there, the dynamic duo of Earnhardt and Childress’ No. 3 car ignited. The following season, 1987, Earnhardt won 11 races and claimed a second Cup title. Earnhardt and Childress went on to win four more championships (1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994). By then, Earnhardt and the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet won 54 races. In addition, Childress’ No. 3 car surpassed 500 Cup career starts.
From 1995 to 1997, Earnhardt piloted the No. 3 car to seven victories, 32 top-five results and 40 top-10 results with a best points result of second place in 1995 behind Jeff Gordon. In 1998, Earnhardt captured his first elusive Daytona 500 win in February and in his 20th effort. Earnhardt’s victory was one that was applauded and respected by many, with many crew members congratulating Earnhardt on pit road. He proceeded in performing two victorious spins in the infield grass before he proceeded to Victory Lane to celebrate his triumph with his crew, friends and family.
Following the 2000 season, Richard Childress’ No. 3 car had won 69 races and had surpassed 700 Cup career starts with Earnhardt tallying his win column to 76 and coming off a runner-up result in the 2000 standings behind Bobby Labonte. Then came the 2001 Daytona 500 in February, where Earnhardt was battling for third place when he was involved in a wreck in Turn 3 and made head-on contact into the outside wall alongside veteran Ken Schrader before both competitors came sliding down the banking and into the infield. While Michael Waltrip, Earnhardt’s driver from Dale Earnhardt Inc., celebrated with the win, Earnhardt was transported to the Halifax Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at age 49 due to sustaining a fatal basilar skull fracture. Following the 2001 Daytona 500, Childress retired the No. 3 in the Cup Series, which was renumbered to 29 with Bakersfield, California’s Kevin Harvick competing for RCR from 2001 to 2013.
Thirteen years later, the No. 3 car under the Richard Childress Racing banner returned to the Cup circuit for the 2014 season with Austin Dillon, Childress’ eldest grandson and the reigning Xfinity Series champion, assigned to drive the car in his rookie Cup season. In Dillon’s first laps piloting RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet SS, he secured the pole position for the Daytona 500 with a pole-winning lap at 196.019 mph. Dillon went on to record one top-five result and four top-10 results before he concluded the season in 20th place in the final standings. During the process, he was beaten by Kyle Larson for the 2014 Rookie-of-the-Year title.
From 2015 to 2016, Dillon drove RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet to five top-five results, 18 top-10 results and two poles with a best points result of 14th in 2016. In the midst of Dillon’s sophomore and junior years of racing in the Cup Series was also how he walked away without any life-sustaining injuries from a harrowing accident on the final lap at Daytona in July, where he went airborne and flew upside down over a handful of cars before he smashed into the catch fence and was hit by a spinning Brad Keselowski while on his roof, thus destroying the No. 3 car and ripping the engine out of the car.
In 2017, Dillon recorded only one top-five result during the first 11 races of the season. The following race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600, Dillon survived on fuel to claim a triumphant first Cup career victory at his home track and to record the first win for RCR’s No. 3 since October 2000 at Talladega made by the late Dale Earnhardt. The victory was also the second of the season for RCR following a three-year winless drought. Dillon went on to conclude the season in a career-best 11th place in the final standings. By then, RCR’s No. 3 car surpassed 900 Cup career starts.
In 2018, the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 driven by Austin Dillon won the 60th running of the Daytona 500 following contact on the final lap with Aric Almirola. The victory was Dillon’s second of his Cup career and it came on the 20th anniversary when Dale Earnhardt won his first and only Daytona 500 in the No. 3 car in 1998. It also came on the 11th anniversary where Childress celebrated his second Daytona 500 triumph with Kevin Harvick. Dillon went on to record one more top-five result and seven more top-10 results before he concluded the season in 13th place in the final standings.
After going winless and settling in 21st place in 2019, Dillon started off with four top-10 results in the first 17 races of the 2020 Cup season. The following race, Dillon utilized late pit strategy to win at Texas Motor Speedway for his third Cup triumph and to record the 100th NASCAR Cup victory for the No. 3 overall. Through the first 22 races of this season, Dillon and RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet are ranked 17th in the regular-season standings with one victory and six top-10 results. They are guaranteed a spot in this year’s Playoffs by virtue of the win at Texas.
In 999 previous starts, the No. 3 car under Childress’ banner has achieved six championships, 72 victories, 30 poles, 256 top-five results and 477 top-10 results between four competitors.
Catch Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 car’s milestone start in the inaugural Go Bowling 235 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, which will air on August 16 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.