By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Earlier this week, Carl Edwards announced that he was stepping away from NASCAR just a little less than two months removed from being one of four drivers with a shot at the championship in Homestead, Florida.
In his press conference, Edwards cited happiness with his achievements in his career, wanting to stay healthy, and spending more time with his family as reasons for his departure from Joe Gibbs Racing and a sport that consumes your life for 38 of the 52 weeks out of the year. And although he sounded sincere in his announcement, and I have no reason to believe that Edwards isn’t being genuine in why he is leaving the sport, it just feels like there is more to the story than we are being told.
One reason I feel that way is the fact that Edwards was so hesitant to say the “R-word.”
If the 37-year-old’s main reason for leaving the sport would be to end his career healthy, wouldn’t the only way to insure that be to stop driving altogether? If Edwards comes back for one-off races, it means that he would be going for broke for the win in every event he runs. That doesn’t sound like a smart way to continue for someone concerned about their long-term health.
Another takeaway I had was how can Edwards honestly be happy with what he has accomplished throughout his career?
Sure he has won 28 races in the Cup Series, he has won an Xfinity Series title to go along with 44 additional NASCAR National Series wins, but there are some major items missing from Edwards’ resume.
First, Edwards has been chasing a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title for 12 long years. It’s the one thing that fuels his fire each and every year, and this past season he had the cup all but locked up with 10 laps to go in the season’s final race until all hell broke loose. I was in the throng of media members who followed Edwards through the garage area after his dust up with Joey Logano, and I saw first hand how badly Edwards truly wanted it.
Fast forward two months and I find it hard to believe that the same driver who was so upset — yet graceful — about losing that championship is now suddenly at peace with his career achievements.
Even if Edwards doesn’t care about nabbing a series championship — which we all know he did — what about a Daytona 500 trophy? It’s the most prestigious race in NASCAR and Edwards has still not tasted the spoils of Gatorade Victory Lane. If not the Daytona 500, what about a race that Edwards has said in the past that he holds in higher regard than Daytona — Kansas?
In 19 career starts at his hometown track at Kansas Speedway, Edwards has yet to win.
No championship. No Daytona 500. No Kansas win. It’s kind of hard to believe Edwards is alright with that.
So that being said, why would Edwards step away? Could it be pressure from a sponsor? Again, I have nothing indicating that to be the case, but it just seems like a logical reason for the sudden departure of one of NASCAR’s brightest stars.
Daniel Suarez set off a social media storm when he won the final NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway en route to winning the championship. Seeing the electric response to NASCAR’s newest star’s success very well could have led the sponsor to force Joe Gibbs Racing to move him up the ladder faster than intended — we all know sponsorship rules all in NASCAR.
Hypothetically, if this is how things unfolded, Edwards had a couple of options.
First, move to a different team. However, at this point in the offseason there aren’t any quality rides available for Edwards to strap into. Again, if this is the scenario of which this all happened, Edwards could have done what Clint Bowyer did last season while he was awaiting a move into the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing car.
Bowyer struggled mightily at HScott Motorsports and only collected three top-10 finishes all season long. It’s hard to believe Edwards would take a similar path to Bowyer’s.
The second option would be for Edwards to play the retirement card for one year. It would give him a year to recharge at home with his family, all the while planning the perfect moment to let teams know that he is back on the market to drive in the sport again.
Again, it is very possible that we never see Carl Edwards race in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race again, but in my honest opinion, it just doesn’t feel like we’ve seen the last of the back-flip specialist.