Replica No. 3 car unveiled

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive a replica of his father's No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona in July.

The car unveiling was done Thursday at JR Motorsports on what would have been the seven-time NASCAR champion's 59th birthday. He was killed in a 2001 accident at Daytona, and his number has not been used in the Sprint Cup Series since.

Earnhardt Jr. drove the No. 3 twice in 2002 in NASCAR's second-tier series, and Richard Childress, who controls the number, is allowing his grandson, Austin, to use it in the Truck Series this season.

"This was an idea that came up as a way to pay tribute to my dad," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The Wrangler car is definitely in the top 10 of coolest cars that have ever been on the race track. A lot of people identify with it, and I can't think of a better way to honor my dad and celebrate his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame than to bring the Wrangler colors back with the No. 3 on the side."

Earnhardt will be inducted as part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class on May 23.

The idea to bring the No. 3 back was a collaborative effort between Earnhardt Jr., who will use a car from JR Motorsports, Teresa Earnhardt, who controls her late husband's legacy, and Richard Childress Racing, the team Earnhardt drove for during the bulk of his career.

The appearance together Thursday was the first time Earnhardt Jr. has been in public with his stepmother since announcing in 2007 he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team his late father started but had been run by Teresa Earnhardt since his death.

Asked how things might be different if her father were still alive, Earnhardt's sister, Kelley, said the DEI relationship would still be going on.

"If he was here, I'm pretty sure we'd all still be together ... Dale Jr. would have never left DEI," Kelley Earnhardt said.