Believe It: Dale Jr., Teresa Earnhardt And Richard Childress Join Forces To Bring No. 3 To Daytona

After posing for photos and chatting with family members he hadn't seen in far too long, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ducked through a crowd and approached a group of reporters.

"What did y'all think of that?" he asked.

It seems no one, even Earnhardt Jr., was quite sure what to make of the news conference that had just taken place.

For the first time since Earnhardt Jr.'s widely publicized split from Dale Earnhardt Inc. – the team his late father owned and founded – the driver sat alongside DEI president Teresa Earnhardt, cameras and eyes focused on their every interaction.

It looked awkward, though Earnhardt Jr. softly said it wasn't as bad as it may have appeared. Though he wasn't sure what to expect, he and his stepmother aren't at odds as much as people think, he said, and this day was all about something greater.

This was something they could all agree on: Honoring Dale Earnhardt Sr.

And so an opportunity that not many would have thought was realistic has become a reality: Earnhardt Jr. will be behind the wheel of a No. 3 car – albeit in the Nationwide Series – with one of the famous Wrangler paint schemes that marked his legendary father's early career.

He will drive the 3 for the first time since 2002 in the July 2 Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway, his only schedule appearance in the car.

The combined effort meant cooperation was needed from not only Wrangler, but from Richard Childress Racing (which will enter the 3 car under its banner), DEI (which tightly controls Earnhardt Sr.'s legacy) and Hendrick Motorsports (which gave its blessing for Earnhardt Jr. to drive for another team).

And it all started with Earnhardt Jr.'s idea. The team had an opening for sponsorship at Daytona in July, and he suggested getting Wrangler involved.

A major NASCAR history buff, Earnhardt Jr. had long thought about what it would be like to drive the Wrangler car. He floated it out to his sister Kelley – who runs the JR Motorsports team – and by the time he heard about the idea again, plans were already underway for the car to race.

It was a happy, exciting day for Earnhardt Jr. He took out his phone and proudly showed reporters a picture of himself in a Wrangler firesuit from a recent photoshoot in advance of the Daytona race.

For the once-bearded Earnhardt Jr., it was even worth shaving for.

But with all the tension between Teresa Earnhardt and the stepchildren whose failed power play to control DEI forced them to leave their father's team in 2007, how were all parties able to work together?

As Kelley Earnhardt said, if everyone would remind themselves of the ultimate goal – honoring Earnhardt Sr. – then their differences could be put aside.

And there are differences, still. Earnhardt Jr. and Teresa sat alongside one another during the news conference –which took place on Dale Earnhardt Day, the celebration of what would have been the seven-time Cup champion's 59th birthday – but it wasn't the most comfortable of scenes.

Though everyone smiled politely, an awkward hug between Teresa and Martha Earnhardt – the matriarch of the Earnhardt family – and hints dropped during the news conference indicated time had not healed all wounds.

For her part, Teresa said little in what may have been her first public comments about Earnhardt Jr. since he left DEI.

Will DEI, RCR and JR Motorsports be working together in the future?

"I would just say, ‘Let's get through this one,'' she said.

What was behind the apparent revival of the Intimidator's legacy as of late?

"It's not really a re-emergence," she said. "That's what we do at Dale Earnhardt Inc., is continue Dale's legacy."

And what did she think of seeing the No. 3 Wrangler car on the track again?

"I'm not even going to go into personal feelings about that," she said. "I'm just happy that we can celebrate and honor this tribute to him."

The children had more to say.

Earnhardt Jr. wondered aloud how fans would react, but said he just hoped "that I'm able to run well enough for his fans to appreciate the race and the car being on the racetrack."

"There will just be a lot of pride, you know?" he said of being behind the wheel of a car sporting a number and paint scheme that means so much to his family.

And Kelley Earnhardt, asked how things may have been different if their father was still alive, had the most telling line of the afternoon.

"If (Earnhardt Sr.) was here, I'm pretty sure we'd all still be together," she said, looking directly at her brother and Teresa. "I know there were two things that were going to happen: One, Dale Jr. would have never left DEI, and I would have never gotten married." (She has since divorced.)

But in the end, Kelley said, it wasn't about what-ifs. Their father will soon be inducted into the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and despite everything that's happened, there's something everyone in the family can agree on.

"We're here to celebrate my dad," she said, "and honor him on this day."

And on July 2 in Daytona, every Earnhardt fan will join them.

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