No. 3 headed back to the track, Sprint Cup Series in 2014 - - Columbia, South Carolina |

No. 3 headed back to the track, Sprint Cup Series in 2014

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The late Dale Earnhardt's famed No. 3 will be back on track in the elite Sprint Cup Series next season with Austin Dillon using the number.

"Dale Earnhardt is smiling down," team owner Richard Childress said.  "He would want to see this 3, he didn't ever want to see it go away, but it was the thing to do."

Richard Childress Racing announced the return of the legendary No. 3 car to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Wednesday afternoon.

The move has been long anticipated after car owner Richard Childress allowed his grandson, Austin Dillon, use the No. 3 as he's moved through NASCAR's ranks.

Dillon, a champion in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, will compete full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning in 2014 driving for RCR.

The number has not been used since Earnhardt's death in the 2001 season-opening Daytona 500. The car was rebranded to No. 29 for Kevin Harvick following Earnhardt's fatal accident.

Dillon won the Truck Series championship in 2011 driving the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing and the Nationwide title this year in the same number.

"My grandfather and everyone at RCR have done a great job of not pushing me too quickly into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," said Dillon.

"I feel like I've been able to spend adequate time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series preparing for this next step in my career [...] I am truly grateful and looking forward to this opportunity."

The No. 3 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Dow, Bass Pro, Realtree and General Mills.

Dillon's program will be led by crew chief Gil Martin, a 13-year veteran of the organization who led Kevin Harvick to six chase berths.

"It's like seeing the 43 out there," NASCAR legend Buddy Baker told WBTV.   "You know who's in it, but you still think of Richard Petty and I'm glad to see Richard Childress have the #3 there with Austin Dillon."

Copyright 2013 WBTV. The Associated Press Contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

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