Avondale, Ariz. It could be a long time before the No. 3 used by the late Dale Earnhardt again adorns the side of a Winston Cup car.
But Dale Earnhardt Jr. will use the number next season in two Busch series events. Richard Childress, the car owner for the elder Earnhardt, killed in a crash in the Daytona 500, will field No. 3 for the Busch races in Daytona and Concord, N.C.
The future of the number so long associated with the seven-time Winston Cup champion remains uncertain, however.
Asked if and when the No. 3 might make its next appearance in NASCAR's top car series, Childress said, "Hopefully, we can make some announcements with that at Atlanta. I don't see the No. 3 running again for Richard Childress Racing unless an Earnhardt is running it."
That doesn't appear likely in the near future, with Dale Jr. an integral part of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., the team his father built. Kerry Earnhardt, Dale Jr.'s older brother, does not have a Winston Cup ride.
Another option would be to retire the number, but NASCAR has been reluctant to do that for anyone, including Richard Petty, whose team still campaigns the No. 43 he drove to seven titles. John Andretti is now behind the wheel.
"I don't think it would be fair to Richard Petty," Earnhardt Jr. said. "If you wanted to retire any number, 43 would probably be the one.
"I'm kind of sentimental, though. If someone were to drive out using the No. 3 next year, I'd be kind of sad about it, but I wouldn't hold no grudges. It would be good, though, if they'd wait a little while out of respect, though."
Little E raced the No. 3 during his two years in the Busch series, winning consecutive championships. With his father still using that number, Earnhardt Jr. switched to No. 8 when he moved up the Cup circuit last year. That number had been raced by his grandfather, NASCAR pioneer Ralph Earnhardt.
"No. 8 has more significance for us," Earnhardt Jr. said Friday. "And I know what my father went through with NASCAR to get it. That's just fine with us."
But it will give him a good feeling to again race No. 3 in the Busch events.
"I should feel right at home with that," he said.
Childress said the deal, with Nabisco as the sponsor, has been in the works for more than a year.
"Dale Earnhardt was the one who got this thing started, and I'm just real happy it's going to happen," Childress said.
The owner changed the number of his Winston Cup car to 29 after Kevin Harvick replaced the elder Earnhardt behind the wheel for the second race of the season. Children also changed from the traditional black of The Intimidator to a base white for Harvick.