Regardless of whether or not you’re a NASCAR fan, you probably know that the No. 3 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is synonymous with the late Dale Earnhardt. Most people in the U.S. know that Earnhardt and the No. 3 Chevrolet are one of the most iconic pairings in NASCAR history … and rightfully so.
Although Earnhardt had already won a series title when he was tapped to take the seat of the Richard Childress-owned car, it was in the No. 3 where he developed a name and reputation for himself as the “Intimidator” and “The Man in Black.”
He’s a large reason (okay … the main reason) the No. 3 is third among all car numbers with 158 total wins between all three of NASCAR’s national series (97 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, 32 in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and 29 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series). Without his 67 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins and nine NASCAR XFINITY wins the No. 3 wouldn’t crack the top 10.
It wasn’t until 1984 (his sixth full season in the series) that Dale Earnhardt got behind the steering wheel of the No. 3 Chevrolet. Only his sponsor at the time wasn’t GM Goodwrench that he would later become forever linked to. Instead it was another popular sponsor – Wrangler Jeans. Instead of the black paint scheme of his GM Goodwrench car, his Wrangler car was yellow and blue. Regardless of the different sponsor and paint scheme, he was no less effective in it than he was in the black Goodwrench car.
Earnhardt’s first win in the No. 3 came in July 1984 at Talladega Superspeedway, where he blasted the competition by 1.66 seconds. He won one more race that season – at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He followed up his 1984 campaign with a season in which he four times, including a season sweep at Bristol Motor Speedway.
However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the North Carolina native captured his first championship in the No. 3. His first had come in the No. 2 back in 1980. In 1986, he visited Victory Lane five times, including sweeping both events at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His final win of the season (at Atlanta) was his 20th career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The following year, in 1987, Earnhardt’s good fortune continued in the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet. Not only did he win 11 races, he won his second consecutive title. That season he swept the races at Richmond International Raceway, Darlington Raceway and Bristol. He was such a force to be reckoned with that season that he led the most laps in 10 of the 11 races he won. In fact, Earnhardt led laps in all but two of the 29 races that season.
The following year, Earnhardt began his long-standing relationship with GM Goodwrench, which would last until that tragic day in 2001 when he died in a last-lap accident during the Daytona 500. During the 13-year span, he notched 45 victories.
In 1990 and 1991, Earnhardt scored his fourth and fifth titles, winning eight and four races, respectively. Two years later, he won his sixth title (fifth in the No. 3 car) on the strength of six wins. He followed that season with his seventh and final championship a year later, in 1994. He scored four victories that year.
From 1995 through the end of his career, Earnhardt grabbed the checkered flag 13 more times. His final win came on October 15, 2000, at Talladega, much like his first victory in the No. 3.
Perhaps his most popular win in the No. 3 came on February 15, 1998, at Daytona International Speedway. Earnhardt had won every other major race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the exception of the season-opening Daytona 500. Many deem winning the Daytona 500 to be the pinnacle of many a driver’s career, as it is NASCAR’s Super Bowl.
The 1998 race was Earnhardt’s 20th attempt at the Harley J. Earl Trophy, given to the winner of the Daytona 500. He had come so close many times, getting fouled up on the last lap on several occasions. He led the 200-lap event for 107 races and was in the lead when the yellow flag came out on the final lap. This was before the idea of green-white-checkered flag finishes was instituted; therefore, the race ended under caution with Earnhardt as the victor. His win was such a popular one that most of the crews lined pit road as a victorious Earnhardt drove down pit road to Victory Lane giving high-fives to all the crews as he drove by.
Unfortunately, that was his only win that year, and he only won five more times before the 2001 Daytona 500. After the fatal accident, the No. 3 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sat vacant until 2014 when Austin Dillon became the car’s full-time driver. Dillon has yet to celebrate a win in the legendary car.
Overall, Earnhardt won at 16 different tracks while piloting the No. 3 Chevrolet. He found the most success at Talladega (nine wins), Atlanta and Darlington (eight wins apiece) and Bristol (seven).
Earnhardt didn’t limit his competing in the No. 3 car only to NASCAR’s premier series, he also ran the car in several NASCAR XFINITY Series races, winning nine times. Of the nine wins, five of them came at Daytona.
While Earnhardt is responsible for 67 of the 97 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins in the No. 3, the remaining 30 wins are split between 11 drivers. NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson leads the way with nine wins in the No. 3 car. All nine of the wins came while driving for Ray Fox between 1962 and 1964. He posted two wins at three different tracks: Charlotte, Daytona and Hickory Speedway.
Paul Goldsmith follows Johnson on the list with five wins in the No. 3 car. He posted the victories while driving for Smokey Yunick from 1956-58. Two drivers (Dick Rathmann and NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson) each had three wins apiece in the car. Rathmann’s three wins all came in 1954 and were the last three of his 13 career wins. Before Pearson had established himself as a serious threat to win every race he entered and won three titles, he posted his first three (of 105 total wins) in 1961 at the wheel of the No. 3 Daytona Kennel Pontiac.
Father and son duo Buck and Buddy Baker, as well as Ricky Rudd, each won twice in the No. 3. Danny Letner, Fireball Roberts, Earl Balmer and Charlie Glotzbach all won one NASCAR Sprint Cup race in the car. For Balmer, it was his only win in the premier series. Buck Baker and Roberts are both members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. never drove the No. 3 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, his first full season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series came while he was at the helm of the No. 3 AC Delco Chevrolet, owned by his dad’s Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI). Between 1998 and 1999, the younger Earnhardt won 13 times in the No. 3 car and captured back-to-back championships in the series. He won seven races in the 1997 season, while tacking on six more the following year.
He didn’t win another NASCAR XFINITY race until 2002 when he drove the No. 3 Oreo Chevrolet in the season-opening race at Daytona. Eight years later he competed in the July Daytona race at the wheel of the No. 3 Wrangler Chevrolet as a tribute to his late father. In all, Dale Jr. posted 15 NASCAR XFINITY wins in the No. 3, more than any other driver.
Steve Park, who drove for DEI for several years, captured his only three wins in the series while driving the No. 3. All three of them came in 1997. Ron Hornaday Jr. also posted two wins in the car in 2000. The two wins were the first of four career wins in the series.
Brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, grandsons of car owner Richard Childress, are the only two other drivers to post victories in the NASCAR XFINITY Series while piloting the No. 3. Austin, the older of the two brothers, won twice in 2012, sweeping both Kentucky races. Although he didn’t win any races in 2013, he competed well enough throughout the season to win the series title. Ty’s only win in the series came in 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Both brothers also have several wins in the No. 3 truck. Five of Austin’s six truck victories were in the seat of the No. 3. He had two wins in 2010, two in 2011 and one in 2014. He also won the truck championship in 2011. All three of Ty’s wins came in the No. 3, one in 2012 and two in 2013.
However, Mike Skinner leads all drivers with 16 truck wins in the No. 3. All of his wins in the No. 3 truck came in 1995-96 while driving for Richard Childress Racing in the first two years of existence for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He won eight races both years while winning back-to-back championships in the truck series. He went on to win 12 more races, none of which came in the No. 3 truck.
Jay Sauter has four wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and all of them came in the No. 3 between 1997 and 1999. The only other driver to win a race in the No. 3 truck was Bryan Reffner when he won a race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2000.
Check back next week to see which number is second on the list of car numbers with the most wins.