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Earnhardt thinks time is right to drive the 3 car
This May 20, 2000, file photo shows Dale Earnhardt, left, embracing his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., right, in victory lane after Dale Earnhardt Jr. won The Winston All-Star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive a replica of his father's No. 3 Wrangler car in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona in July. It will be the first time since 2002 that Earnhardt Jr. will use the No. 3.

RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows some fans are upset about his plan to drive a replica of his father's famous No. 3 car at Daytona in July, but thinks it is a a fitting way to honor the seven-time champion's NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.

"I think everybody knows I'm pretty careful about all that kind of stuff," he said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "It just seems like a reasonable opportunity and it seemed like if there is a time to ever do it, this is one of those times."

Earnhardt announced his plan Thursday to drive the Wrangler car in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona. The announcement came on what would have been his father's 59th birthday. Dale Earnhardt died in a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500 in 2001.

Earnhardt is one of five members of the first class of inductees into the hall of fame, joining NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., who spent 30 years running the top series, Richard Petty, the only other seven-time champion, and driver Junior Johnson. The induction ceremony will be held May 23.

Earnhardt's number is owned by Richard Childress, the car owner he raced for in the Sprint Cup Series, and has not been used in NASCAR's top series since "The Intimidator" died.

Dale Jr., though, doesn't think it's fair to expect it to remain shelved forever.

"It's ridiculous to try to retire numbers or favor numbers for certain drivers," he said. "The 3 meant a lot to Daddy and meant a lot to a lot of race fans, but there's some kid that's growing up that really was never a Dale Earnhardt fan that drives the No. 3 and he might want to be No. 3 all his life, and to not give him that opportunity just ain't fair."