Carl Edwards walked away today, calling a halt to his 13-year run as an elite competitor at the very highest level of the sport.
“I’m stepping away from full-time driving in the Cup Series,” he said. “I don’t have any intention of going back to full-time racing. I want to spend time outside the sport on things that are important for me.
“I believe it’s the right thing. It’s a personal thing.”
Edwards’ decision caught virtually everyone by surprise. Just weeks after a late-race crash ended his bid for the 2016 Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead Miami Speedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver appeared set for one of the most competitive seasons of his career. He had the talent, equipment, sponsorship and manufacturer support in place to finally grab NASCAR’s brass ring, but instead chose to not even make the attempt.
That decision is baffling to some, especially after admitting that he is walking away from the sport without so much as a backup plan.
“I don’t have a life raft I’m jumping onto,” he said. “I’m just jumping.”
For those who don’t know Edwards, that decision seems unfathomable. But for those who have shared space with him in the NASCAR garage, it makes perfect sense.
|"I believe it's the right thing."|
Edwards listed three major factors in his decision to step away; satisfaction with his career, the opportunity to spend more time with his family and a desire to step away from the sport while still healthy.
“This was such a surprise," said team owner Joe Gibbs. "I was all set for the holidays, to have a little R&R. When he sat down and shared (his plans), I was totally surprised. It was nothing about contracts… it was about something Carl felt was important.
“It was clear in our conversations with Carl that he had given this careful consideration and believes strongly that it is the direction he needs to go,” said Gibbs. “We support him in that. We loved having him be part of our team the past two years and we will miss him. But we hope he is happy in whatever is next for his life."
Gibbs added that he has offered Edwards an opportunity to remain involved with both the organization and the sport, but gave no indication of whether he will elect to do so. Edwards made it clear, however, that there is currently no “next step” on his competitive radar. There is no new race team, no manufacturer offering a lucrative position as either a driver or team owner, no looming television deal.
Just a realization that the time has come to apply the brakes, pull into the garage and go home.
"If I am going to get back in a race car, I'm calling Coach Gibbs first," said Edwards. "There is no better race team."
Edwards said he is satisfied with his NASCAR career, and he should be. His resume lacks nothing other than a Cup Series title, and he is a 28-time winner at the sport’s highest level, with 38 Xfinity Series victories and six more in the Camping World Trucks. Combined with a 2007 Xfinity Series championship, the only driver in the history of the sport to lose a Cup Series crown in a tiebreaker (to Tony Stewart in 2011) is a solid bet for NASCAR Hall Of Fame status one day.
Edwards admitted that a major factor in his decision to walk away was the ability to do so with his health intact. Through 750 starts in NASCAR’s three national series, he never missed a race due to injury. His fanatical devotion to physical fitness made him a cover model for men’s health magazines, but no workout regime guarantees continued good health in a sport that lives at 200 mph.
“The risks are something that I want to minimize," he said. "I need to take the time right now and devote it to people that are important to me.”
Edwards’ career wasn’t always smooth sailing. Stock car racing is an emotional sport, and the Columbia, Missouri, native raced – every day, every lap -- with his heart on his sleeve and a take-no-prisoners game plan; an approach that occasionally left him crossways with competitors and teammates alike.
|Edwards and Logano crashed at Homestead|
In March of 2010, a year-long feud with Brad Keselowski ended with Keselowski’s car hurtling upside-down into the catch fence at Atlanta Motor Speedway at nearly 190 mph; a horrifying crash exacerbated when television footage showed Edwards’ white-gloved hands turning sharply to the right, and into Keselowski’s rear quarter panel.
Edwards said he never meant to trigger such a horrific crash, and he and Keselowski eventually mended their fences.
It is perhaps fitting that our final memory of Edwards is from the moments immediately following last season’s Homestead Miami crash. After attempting to block a surging Joey Logano on a decisive restart with just 10 laps remaining, Edwards pounded the inside retaining wall, destroying both his Arris Toyota and his championship dream, in one fell swoop.
Most competitors would have reacted angrily, pointing an accusatory finger at Logano and bemoaning an unfair and unwarranted end to their season. Edwards, however, took the opposite approach, climbing from his battered machine and walking toward Logano’s pit as thousands of fans in attendance – and a national television audience numbering in the millions – braced for an epic confrontation.
With NASCAR officials in hot pursuit, Edwards climbed atop Logano’s pit box and shook hands with crew chief Todd Gordon, acknowledging one of the great, checkers-or-wreckers moments in the history of the sport with a smile and an unlikely wish of good luck.
It was one last act sportsmanship, a farewell salute from a driver that has bettered his sport; both on and off the race track.
That was the Carl Edwards we will miss. The Edwards who took time to interact – one on one – with little children, the elderly and the infirm. The Edwards who took his sunglasses off for television interviews, preferring to look straight into the camera when addressing his fans. The Edwards who media members knew as one of the most eloquent, insightful and honest interviews in the NASCAR garage.
Keselowski commented on Edwards’ withdrawal yesterday, saying via Twitter that he was, “blown away that this is happening.”
Penske Racing driver Joey Logano said, “Carl has always been one of the most fair and hard-racing drivers. I’ve learned as much from his character on the track as off.”
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France issued a statement saying that Edwards “has made an indelible mark on NASCAR. His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport. Carl's passion and personality will greatly be missed -- as will the signature backflips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories. We wish Carl nothing but the best as he enters this next phase in life."
That level of esteem – even more than the wins and championships – defines Edwards’ career.
Edward’s decision makes perfect sense, and is based on the only thing that really matters. He is going home – healthy, happy and undamaged – to spend the rest of his life with his wife and children.
It’s not complicated, convoluted or complex. Today’s announcement is the result of a simple man, refocusing on what is most important in his life.
““Life’s short,” he said. “You’ve got to do what your gut tells you. I don’t regret one bit of it. It’s been a blast.”
Yes it has, Carl.