What was, perhaps, the worst-kept secret of 2013 was made official on Wednesday, as Richard Childress Racing announced during a test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway that the No. 3 would return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition in 2014 with 2013 Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon behind the wheel. He’ll be a teammate to Ryan Newman, new driver of the No. 31 car for RCR, and Paul Menard, returning driver of the No. 27.
“My grandfather (car owner Richard Childress) and everyone at RCR have done a great job of not pushing me too quickly into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,” Dillon said. “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 thrilled to be making this move with partners like Dow and Cheerios, along with some longtime partners who have supported me and RCR throughout my career. I am truly grateful and looking forward to this opportunity.”
The No. 3 hasn’t been on a car at the NASCAR Cup level since Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500. After Earnhardt’s death, the car number was changed to 29 and Kevin Harvick was moved up from the Busch (now-Nationwide) Series to drive the car. Harvick left RCR at the end of the 2013 season to join Stewart-Haas Racing.
Dillon is a champion of both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, winning a Nationwide title in 2013 and the Truck Series championship in 2011. In 2012, he was the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year. Dillon has already made 13 starts at the Sprint Cup level over the last few seasons.
The No. 3 car will be sponsored by Dow and General Mills, through its Cheerios brand. Gil Martin, who has been with Richard Childress Racing for 13 years, will be Dillon’s crew chief.
“With Austin Dillon’s success in both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, we’re proud to continue our support of Austin, a proven winner and passionate driver,” General Mills Manager of Shopper Marketing and Motorsports Gregg Dorazio said. “He shares many of the same values as the Cheerios brand and has a bright future in the sport. We’re excited to join him in this next step in his career. We’re also proud to continue our partnership with RCR and continue our heritage in the sport.”
– See photo gallery, below, for photos from the announcement (images provided by Getty Images for NASCAR).