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Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't drive the No. 3 after Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is closing a circle this coming Friday when he races the Wrangler Chevrolet No. 3 in the Daytona Nationwide race. Closing it, and leaving it behind.

ESPN.com is reporting that Junior has said he has no intention of running the 3 after this week, surely breaking the hearts of many in Junior Nation who had hoped that Little E would -- oh, just speculating here -- jump to Richard Childress Racing and finish out his career racing under his daddy's number. No, Junior said he's "99 percent sure" he'll never run under it again.

"It's not [my number] to take and use whenever I feel like using it," he said, according to ESPN. "You just don't grab the car keys off the counter and go run out the door and haul down the road with your dad's car. I didn't do it when he was alive, and I won't do it now."

That may not fit the proper Shakespearean-style story of redemption -- it's like Hamlet with horsepower! -- but it's the appropriate move for Junior. It's got to be tough enough driving his father's number, and at Daytona, where the Intimidator lost his life? Seriously, that's a lot to ask of any man.

But furthermore, Junior already lives in his father's shadow. (The kid doesn't even have his own name, for heaven's sake.) Racing under his father's number would solidify, once and for all, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not his own man, that he's his father's son first and foremost. And while that might suit fans of the Intimidator, it's not fair to Junior. He should stand, fall, and miss pit stalls on his own name and merits.

"I'm borrowing it once," Junior said, "and then maybe sometime down the road some kid will come up, and he'll have a connection to the 3 -- whether it's through my father or whether it's what his number's been since he was playing teeball. Whatever, you know, that will be his. It will be someone else's."

Get those cameras and those memories ready, Junior fans. Next weekend will be a last-in-a-lifetime experience -- and that's only right.

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