Columbia, Mo. native Carl Edwards announced on Wednesday at Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, NC that he is stepping away from the sport of NASCAR for the 2017 season and beyond. The announcement was unexpected, shocking, surprising and emotional.
“Life is short,” the 37-yard old Edwards told the crowd full of media, sponsors, NASCAR officials and peers. “You’ve got to do what your gut tells you. I think it’s the right thing to do, as confusing as this whole thing might be. This might not make sense to people.”
Edwards cited three main reasons for stepping away from the sport he has called his career for over a decade. First, he is content with his accomplishments despite not winning a Monster Energy Cup Series championship.
“You go from that to working up the courage to ask people to drive a car to being put in situations where you know if you drive well and you win, you get sponsorship and everything works,” he explained. “Going through that whole process and becoming a better person, a stronger person, a better competitor, a better teammate, a better friend to people, that’s a big deal to me, and I feel accomplished.”
Edwards also added that despite falling short of hoisting a championship trophy in the MENCS (finished fourth and was 10 laps away from winning the title at Homestead), he can live with his career achievements.
“And I know when I sit in that race car that I am the best race car driver I can be,” he said. “So whether or not I have a championship, I’m really satisfied with that.”
Second, he would like to spend more time with the people he cares deeply about and not focus 100 percent on racing, 24/7, 365.
“I wake up in the morning thinking about racing,” said Edwards. “I think about it all day. I go to bed thinking about it. And I have dreams about racing. And that’s just how it is. I’ve been doing that for 20 years and I need to take that time right now and devote it to people and things that are important to me, things I’m really passionate about.”
Cousin Carl is one of the only prominent drivers at the top level with no social media accounts, meaning that the public can’t get a glimpse into his life like they can of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson. However, his crew chief for the past two seasons on the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota, Dave Rogers, told MRN’s Mike Bagley that Edwards would “sometimes send him pictures of tractors” on their family farm which they call home in Missouri. Edwards is also one of the only drivers to not permanently live in the Charlotte area.
Finally, Edwards wants to keep his health intact. He is known as a fitness freak, and has posed on the cover of Men’s Health and ESPN The Magazine sporting his six-pack. With his wife–a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Missouri–and a couple young children in their lives, health is definitely a priority for Edwards.
“I’m a sharp guy, and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years,” Edwards told the crowd. “So those risks are something that I want to minimize.”
Throughout his career in NASCAR, Edwards hasn’t shown much emotion. But some of it came out when a reporter asked about his “Midwestern values” and how that has molded him into the person that he is today. He took his time, turned his back on the podium and told the crowd with tears welling up in his eyes, “I just want to be a good person.”
He also refused to use the dreaded r-word: retirement. He left the door open to possibly returning to NASCAR on a part-time schedule or as a relief/substitute driver in the future.
“If I’m going to get back in a race car […] I’m calling Coach (Joe) Gibbs first,” he said. “There is no better race team. There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry. There’s no better engine. There’s no better crew chief than Dave Rogers. There’s no better crew.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs was floored by the decision Edwards had come to when he was approached in December. “It was totally a surprise. Honestly, it was a total shock. I could really tell in his face that it was something he’d really thought about. He was kind of emotional and it was something he really felt like he needed to do.”
Gibbs wasn’t the only one in the NASCAR community who was shocked by the news, as drivers across the sport weighed in on social media, saluting Edwards on a great career.
Edwards earned 28 checkered flags, 10 Chase appearances and finished runner-up two times, most notably in 2011 to Tony Stewart (lost on a tiebreaker). He also made 445 career starts, won 22 poles, and earned 124 top-five and 220 top-10 finishes. Is he a Hall of Fame driver? That’s a different conversation for a different time.
By the way, who’s replacing Edwards in the Cup Series? Reigning Xfinity Series champion and Monterrey, Mexico native Daniel Suarez. With support from ARRIS and Coach Gibbs, both sides believe the 25-year old is ready to make the jump to the next level.
“This is amazing,” Suarez said. “It’s hard to believe I’m in this position. I know it won’t be easy. I have a lot to learn. But I’m sure it couldn’t happen in a better situation.” He has teammates in Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth to lean on as he looks to challenge Furniture Row Racing’s Erik Jones for the Rookie of the Year honors in 2017.
But for Edwards, the future is a bit unclear. Have we seen the last of him and his patented backflip after he wins a race? His final win (rain-shortened at Texas) went without a backflip due to the subdued nature of the win and the dampness of the asphalt.
But if this is it, the final memory we have of him is walking down pit road to shake Todd Gordon’s hand after his driver got into a wreck with Edwards while racing for the championship. If a young Carl Edwards could go back and watch that tape, his “Midwestern values” would surely show the Carl Edwards now that he is in fact “a good person.”