CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Richard Childress wasn’t going to let just anyone drive the iconic black No. 3 Chevrolet following the death of the legendary Dale Earnhardt 16 years ago.
It had to be someone special.
“To put my grandson in that car was unbelievable,” Childress said.
Four years after that emotional and somewhat controversial decision to bring the No. 3 back, Austin Dillon delivered with his first Series Cup victory early Monday at the Coca-Cola 600, a victory that resonated with Earnhardt fans across the country and left his grandfather on the verge of tears.
Childress said the moment didn’t sink in until he looked up at the board after the race.
“When I saw the 3 on top, that is when I got emotional,” Childress said. “It’s so special to see that 3 on top of the board and know that my grandson is in the car.”
Dillon said capturing his first Cup Series win in the No. 3 car took some pressure off him.
“He was the best of all time,” Dillon said of Earnhardt. “And I am glad to add to the legacy of it. And I want to keep adding.”
Childress said he never doubted the decision to bring back the No. 3 and rarely goes anywhere without fans telling him how thankful they are he made the decision.
“Nothing will ever replace Dale Earnhardt, but we wanted to carry it over for the fans,” Childress said.
Some things we learned from the Coca-Cola 600:
TOUGH LUCK TRUEX: Martin Truex Jr. has dominated the Coca-Cola 600 the last three years, but only has one win to show for it.
Truex has led 63 percent (756 of 1,200) of the laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway the last three years, but has lost twice on fuel mileage.
“This is the third year in a row we led the most laps and felt like we had a chance to win and two out of the three we lost on fuel mileage,” Truex said. “So that’s a little tough to swallow. But I can’t say enough about my team. It’s tough to come up short on fuel mileage, but we have been on this side of it before.”
LARSON’S TOUGH WEEK: Kyle Larson’s 10-day stay in Charlotte was filled with disappointment.
The Cup Series points leader’s run at a Coca-Cola 600 championship ended late in the third stage when he hit the wall in turn three at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Larson had only one finish outside of the top 25 this season until Sunday when he finished 33rd.
“I made a mistake and got loose,” Larson said.
Larson’s struggles started in qualifying when he failed to pass pre-race inspection and was forced to start at the back of the field.
Larson also had some bad luck at the All-Star race last week. He won the first two segments and appeared to be set up to take home the $1 million prize before a slow pit stop cost him valuable position in the 10-lap shootout portion of the race.
BUSCH ANGRY: Kyle Busch was noticeably upset in the press room after finishing second to Dillon and failing to win his first Cup Series race at Charlotte.
When asked if he’s surprised that Dillon had enough gas to reach the finish line, Busch said, “I’m not surprised by anything.”
Busch is now 0 for 27 in Cup races here.
THE WRECK: Some of the pre-race favorites were eliminated early as Brad Keselowski crashed into the back of Chase Elliott’s car just 20 laps into the race, ending the night for both drivers. The chain reaction occurred after metal debris from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car flew into Elliott’s car causing his car to catch fire. Keselowski couldn’t avoid Elliott because of the oil on the track.
EARNHARDT A NON-FACTOR
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was hoping for his first Cup Series win at Charlotte — a place that had holds fond memories for him — but was not a major factor. He ran in the teens most of the night before finishing 10th.
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