DAYTONA BEACH - The No. 3 went back to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first NASCAR victory in more than three years and did it in a car that honored his late father.
Earnhardt, winless in any NASCAR points race since a Sprint Cup victory at Michigan in 2007, took the lead on pit road under caution with 26 laps to go Friday night in the Nationwide series race. Running a No.3 Chevrolet with a Wrangler paint scheme to honor his father's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Earnhardt brought his loyal fans to their feet for the final sprint in the Subway 250.
Paul Menard's wreck with four laps left brought out a caution and Earnhardt, the leader, decided not to pit. On old tires, he held off Joey Logano and a slew of Cup regulars for his first Nationwide victory since Michigan in 2006.
Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt's cousin and crew chief, was overcome with emotion.
"We lost everything here," Eury said softly. "To come back with that number and do this, it means everything."
Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap accident in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Junior's No. 3, his father's famed number, had the Wrangler paint scheme that the elder Earnhardt drove to one of his seven Cup championships. It was a collaboration with Richard Childress (who owns the rights to the No.3), Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, and Earnhardt Jr.'s own JR Motorsports team.
CHASE DRAMA: NASCAR is considering tweaking the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, with chairman Brian France wanting to create more drama to the title-deciding format.
"We're happy with the Chase, (but) if we can enhance it in a pretty significant way, we may do that," France said.
Introduced in 2004 as a radical new system, 10 drivers competed over the final 10 races of the season. The inaugural year was a smashing success, as five drivers went into the finale in mathematical contention to win the title that ultimately went to Kurt Busch, who beat Jimmie Johnson by eight points.
In 2006, NASCAR widened the field to 12 drivers and created a system based on bonus points earned through "regular-season" wins. Johnson began his run of four consecutive titles that year.
France would not talk specifics, but in general, NASCAR might consider eliminations, or a way to ensure that several drivers contend in the finale. In the past several years, Johnson has had to only preserve a decent finish to wrap up the title with little to no competition.
RAIN BRINGS ORDER: Kevin Harvick, the Cup points leader, was awarded the pole for tonight's Coke Zero 400 when qualifying was washed out. The order was set by owner points. Harvick was one of only 12 cars to complete qualifying laps before showers, but the best he would have started was ninth.