Dale Earnhard’t No. 3 car will return, driven by Richard Childress’s grandson, Austin Dillon, in the 2014 Sprint Cup series. (Chuck Burton / AP)

The famed No. 3 car, last driven by the late Dale Earnhardt, will return to racing next season with Austin Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, behind the wheel.

“I know in my heart, today, as I sit here, Dale Earnhardt is smiling down,” Childress said at the unveiling of the new No. 3 car Wednesday. “He would want to see this 3. He didn’t want it to ever go away. But I felt it was the thing to do right after Daytona, and I know today that he’s accepting this highly. I knew him that well.”

Dillon, 23, has used the number as he has advanced through NASCAR, gently re-introducing it to the sport. The number has not been used since Earnhardt was killed in the Daytona 500 in February 2001 and Childress paid to retain it over the years, waiting for “the right opportunity.”

“I’ve heard a lot of good feedback from the fans, and every time I’m at an autograph session I’ve had someone ask what’s going to happen,” Dillon said. “They are excited and we are, too, at RCR. It’s what our sport was built on — family and history — and a great opportunity for all of our sport to see this No. 3 back on the track.”

Dillon and Childress have the backing of one influential driver — Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I’m in favor of it,” he said (via USA Today). “I’m real comfortable with it. I look forward to seeing it out on the racetrack. It’ll definitely stir up some emotions that I’m probably not aware of right now, but I’m expecting it to have a positive influence on the sport and the fans and Austin as well.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders. I would be worried if I didn’t think he’d respect it or not understand the legacy, but he does. I know he does. He appreciates it.”