AYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The famed No. 3 is returning to Daytona International Speedway, and without an Earnhardt behind the wheel.

Austin Dillon, a grandson of Richard Childress, is bringing one of NASCAR’s most prominent numbers back to the sport’s most storied track.

Dillon will race a black No. 3 in next week’s Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona. He will be the second to drive a car with the number that essentially has been retired since Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove a blue No. 3 Chevrolet in the Nationwide race in February 2002, and took it to Victory Lane.

The 20-year-old Dillon knows the history of the number well, growing up watching the Earnhardts turn the 2½-mile, high-banked track into their personal stomping ground.

“A lot of prestige and history goes with it,” said Dillon, a freshman at High Point University who plans to major in communications. “I feel like if we run well with it, it’s going to make things a lot easier. I’m going to put the pressure on myself to go out there and do well and see what we can do.”

Childress owns the rights to the number and has been hesitant to put it back on the track since Earnhardt’s death. But he gave Dillon the go-ahead. Dillon wore No. 3 playing baseball and basketball as a child and has raced with it on the side of his car ever since.

“I love running it,” Dillon said. “I’m comfortable with the number and excited to run it in the truck series. It comes with a lot of different things – media, fans – and people love it. It’s something that’s really close to many people’s hearts. It’s close to mine and it’s close to my family’s, and I feel very fortunate to be able to run it.”

Dillon made his NASCAR debut in 2008 and has started eight races in the truck and Nationwide series. He drove the No. 3 truck twice in the truck series last season (Iowa and New Hampshire), but he expects Daytona will be different.

How does Childress feel about it?

“I think he’s excited for it, too,” Dillon said. “He’s glad to see it out on the track again. It kind of puts a smile on his face when he sees it running. Fans know that, and they’ll be excited for it, too.”


HARVICK ARRIVES: Kevin Harvick arrived at Daytona much later than planned and had bad news awaiting him.

Clint Bowyer wrecked Harvick’s primary car for the Budweiser Shootout, forcing Harvick into a backup car for Saturday night’s exhibition race that kicks off Speedweeks.

“I’m just glad I didn’t have to be the one to do it,” Harvick said Friday.

Harvick said he was feeling considerably better a day after he missed media day and two practice sessions because of flulike symptoms.


RAINED OUT: Rain canceled two practice sessions Friday at Daytona. The final ARCA practice was washed out, and so was the second of two Sprint Cup qualifying practices. Eight Cup cars failed to turn laps at all when the first qualifying practice was called because of heavy showers. Those cars will get extra track time Saturday morning.

It could be the last bit of poor weather during Speedweeks.

Extended forecasts are calling for a 30 percent chance of rain Wednesday and next Friday, but the weather should be otherwise perfect for racing.


PENSKE DONATES: Penske Corp. has donated more than $1 million worth of diesel-powered flatbed trucks to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

The trucks are expected to be instrumental in mobilizing food and supplies in Haiti.

“Their generous contribution is an example of what the private sector can do to help Haiti rebuild and recover from the massive earthquake, and I’m grateful for their leadership,” former President Bill Clinton said in a statement.

NASCAR team owner Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp., called the tragedy in Haiti “almost unimaginable.”


STARS ALIGNED: Two Juniors will be part of pre-race activities for the Daytona 500.

Three-time Grammy winner and actor Harry Connick Jr. was tabbed to sing the national anthem before the Feb. 14 season opener, and former Daytona 500 champion Junior Johnson was selected as grand marshal.

Connick sang at NASCAR’s season-ending awards ceremony in 2003. Johnson’s appearance, which includes delivering the “Gentlemen, start your engines” command, is to mark the 50th anniversary of his 1960 Daytona 500 victory.

The track already announced that country music star Tim McGraw will perform a pre-race concert.

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