Carl Edwards made it official Wednesday morning. He is back-flipping into the next phase of his life, leaving NASCAR and untold millions behind to land ... well... where exactly?
Edwards, 37, was unclear about that. He mentioned television broadcasting as a possibility. He didn’t discount running for political office. He talked fondly about flying planes and farming (he and his family live on a huge spread in Missouri). He also said he wasn’t going to use the “R” word – and indeed he never said he was actually retiring Wednesday, only that he was stepping away from full-time Cup racing.
Edwards said he had three reasons for his departure: He said he was “personally satisfied” with his career, that the time commitment of Cup racing was incredibly grueling and that he was “100 percent healthy” and wanted to stay that way.
“I’m a sharp guy,” Edwards said, “and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years.”
He is a sharp guy, for sure. Edwards is also a shiny surface, one that reflects all light and is very hard to penetrate. He is affable, handsome and very self-aware in front of microphones. He knows reporters’ names and can talk around things he doesn’t want to talk about (his wife, his children, his exact future plans) with the expertness of a seasoned politician.
Edwards has always been a gracious, glib, guarded star. He has always been hard to read – Tony Stewart once referred to Edwards as “the Eddie Haskell of NASCAR.”
Edwards drove a race car fluently enough to win 28 Cup races, celebrating most with a post-race backflip off the top of his car. He said all that was plenty enough for him.
Said Edwards: “Now you’re thinking, ‘Well, you don’t have a championship.’... But I don’t race for trophies.”
Team owner and former NFL head coach Joe Gibbs said Wednesday he was “totally surprised” by Edwards’ decision to step away from the sport and likened it to Barry Sanders leaving the Detroit Lions when Sanders was still at the top of his game. Said Gibbs: “Ninety percent of a time what happens is you have to tell a guy, ‘You’re done.’ You normally have to tell the athlete, ‘Hey, it’s over.’”
Gibbs will replace Edwards in the No. 19 Toyota with Daniel Suarez. Edwards said he had no other driving deal in the works and that if he did ever return to racing – he left this door open several times – that he would call Gibbs first.
Ultimately, I think we will see Edwards back in a race car. It will be hard for him to match the adrenalin rush of a race – he said that’s what he “lived for” as a driver – and Edwards didn’t sound Wednesday like he had anything else lined up that would do that for him.
“I think he’s still kind of questioning what all he’s going to be doing,” said Gibbs of Edwards, with the owner adding he still planned to employ Edwards in a variety of capacities.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., a longtime competitor, tweeted Wednesday: “Interesting about Edwards. I can see him being lured back into the right situation. Although drivers retiring ‘early’ doesn’t surprise me.”
Edwards almost won the 2016 Cup championship in Homestead in November and would have but for a wreck near the end, but he said that near-miss didn’t shape his decision. He said there was no “defining moment” that made him step away – although if there was, I’m not sure Edwards would have mentioned it. Unlike many drivers who post personal pictures and bring their families to races, Edwards doesn’t even have a personal Twitter account. He doesn’t like people to put the names of his wife or his children in print.
Why walk away? Who knows?
Edwards broke down only once during his 30-minute press conference, when he started to say: “I just want to be a good person.” Edwards got the words out, finally, after tearing up. It was a genuinely sweet moment.
Edwards then quickly brushed by it, making a joke about the cameras clicking in his face and immediately regaining his composure.
I still don’t get his decision, honestly.
Why would you walk away from your dream job at age 37? Edwards used to be a substitute teacher on the side when he was struggling to make it in racing. He would hand out business cards in NASCAR garages when he was looking for a full-time ride.
Before too long, Edwards made it big. He was a sponsor’s dream in many ways. Edwards is whip-smart, an extremely good driver and doesn’t ever get in trouble (except for purposely wrecking a competitor occasionally, but almost everybody does that).
Now, he’s walking away.
I think it’s just temporary. I think Edwards will get rejuvenated and ultimately return to racing in a big way, and that there will be another huge press conference in a year or two in which he announces that.
But this is Carl Edwards, a tinted window of a man. So you can never be too sure.