NASCAR fans' reactions to the return of the No. 3 Chevrolet to the Sprint Cup Series "remain mixed ... even after Austin Dillon drove the car to the pole position" yesterday for this Sunday's Daytona 500, according to a front-page piece by Dinah Pulver of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. Some fans "celebrated the return of the No. 3 ... while others grumbled it isn't fair to the memory of the late Dale Earnhardt." The debate "over the return of the No. 3 has raged for nearly a year" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/17). USA TODAY's Jeff Gluck writes fans who "still mourn the loss of the 'Intimidator' might have mixed emotions at seeing another driver in the No. 3 car." Team Owner Richard Childress "couldn't have scripted it any better." He said, "It's almost like a storybook. ... To actually bring it back, what better way to start it?" (USA TODAY, 2/17).
WALTRIP WEIGHS IN: FOXSPORTS.com's Darrell Waltrip wrote of Dillon's pole victory yesterday, "Just think about what that does for our sport? Just think about what it does to all those Dale Sr. fans that to this day still wear his t-shirts or have the No. 3 decal on their vehicles?" The "best way" to honor Earnhardt and "some of our biggest stars in the sport who came before Dale in the No. 3, is to have that number out there on the track, trying to win races and competing for championship." Waltrip: "I know there are still Nay-Sayers out there that are dead set against it. To that I can only say two things. First, get over it already because the No. 3 is back and second, get to know this young man behind the wheel first. I think he will change your position" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/16).
SPONSORS OPINE: In a special to SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, Erik Spanberg writes "beyond the legacy Dillon inherits, his sponsors must consider how the move plays with the fiercely loyal fans of the late Earnhardt." Cheerios and Dow Chemical "will account for the majority of the 38 races as primary sponsors on Dillon’s car." Childress said, "You’re always going to have people that have opinions, and that’s what life is about. But our opinion rating right now is in the high 90s (in favor of the No. 3 returning)." RCR CMO Ben Schlosser said that one or two more sponsors "with roles as primary backer will be announced soon." Cheerios "likes the generational connections" from Childress to the Earnhardts. Dow Automotive Systems President Steve Henderson said, "We’re very sensitive of the legacy (of No. 3) and we’re going to (bring it back) with ultimate respect." Most of the Dow campaigns "will be at the track, hosting customers and prospects, staging VIP tours and using RCR’s North Carolina headquarters for meetings -- and to demonstrate how Dow powers the race teams" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 2/17 issue).