The No. 3 will return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing next year for the first time since the death of Dale Earnhardt if a man claiming to be a little-known driver has his way.
Philip Hampton drew the ire of some longtime NASCAR fans on Monday afternoon when he tweeted about plans to attempt the Sonoma race next season driving a No. 3 car.
@p_hampton: The #3 is returning to the #NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012.
Given Hampton has no driving statistics anywhere, it figures to be a prank. Is it? (UPDATE: Yep, it is.)
Hampton, who describes himself on his Facebook profile as "the next Bill Lester" (he occasionally tweets from Lester's Twitter account) and the owner/driver of the "Kick Booty Racing Chevrolet," claimed NASCAR told him the number is free and available for anyone to use.
@p_hampton: From NASCAR: "No number is retired nor owned by any team. They are all leased by the teams & are owned by NASCAR."
It's worth noting NASCAR would have to approve him to race in the Sprint Cup Series, and he has zero NASCAR starts to his credit at any level as of now.
But if we're wrong and Hampton really is serious about his intention to race a No. 3 car, his NASCAR career would certainly get off to a bad start in the publicity department. Race fans hold the No. 3 in high esteem, and though the number isn't retired, fans would likely frown upon a NASCAR newcomer claiming the number for himself.
Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon – the grandfather of Earnhardt's team owner Richard Childress – uses the No. 3 in the Truck Series and will likely bring it to Cup one day. But if Hampton, a complete unknown, arrives with the No. 3? The backlash would be immense.
That didn't seem to bother Hampton, though.
@p_hampton: I will be hated by JR Nation. Oh well. A number is just a number.
@p_hampton: I'm not cocky. I'm just stating the facts. All numbers are owned by NASCAR. They told me it's open to use sssooo why not use it?
@p_hampton: Wow...Why don't people make such a fuss about Brad Keselowski driving the #2 car? Dale actually started racing in that car. #JustSayin
@p_hampton: So Austin Dillon can drive the #3 with no problem and I can't? What makes him able to? His granddad? #JustSayin
It all sounds extremely fishy (UPDATE, Part II: Yep, it is). Hampton can't possibly be serious, can he? (UPDATE, Part 3: No, he's not). NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said Monday evening that he'd "never heard of Philip Hampton."
But whether he's kidding or not, we'd like to offer Hampton some free advice: Invest in a public relations representative as soon as possible.