Carl Edwards was careful not to use the “r” word Wednesday — as in retirement — but he confirmed that he is “stepping away from full-time driving in the Cup Series” during a news conference at Joe Gibbs Racing headquarters.
Edwards, 37, a native of Columbia, leaves the sport after coming within 10 laps of winning his first career Monster Energy Cup Series title in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“There’s nothing I love more than driving down into a corner at 190 miles an hour sideways next to the best drivers in the world,” Edwards said.
That made his decision all the more stunning for industry insiders.
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“You just don’t think of someone who was so close to a championship saying ‘enough of this,’ ” NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said.
Edwards told team owner Joe Gibbs about his decision a few days before Christmas — citing satisfaction with his career, the desire to pursue interests outside racing and ensuring his long-term health as the driving forces.
“I know right now you’re thinking, ‘But you don’t have a championship,’ ” Edwards said. “Jimmie (Johnson) has got some extras if he wants to send one my way, but truly you guys know that I don’t race just for the trophies. This has been a neat journey for me, and I’ve been rewarded by the challenges.”
Edwards said he has “no regrets” from a 20-year racing career, including the last 13 as a Cup Series driver with Roush Fenway Racing for 11 seasons and the last two with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“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 said. “I know when I sit in that race car that I am the best race car driver I can be, so, whether or not I have a championship, I’m really satisfied with that.”
He’s also ready for a change.
“This is an all-encompassing thing … and not just the physical time, but I wake up in the morning thinking about racing,” Edwards said. “I think about it all day, I go to bed thinking about it and I have dreams about racing.”
After two decades, Edwards said he wants to “take that time right now and devote it to people and things that are important to me, things I’m really passionate about.”
Edwards mentioned aviation and agriculture as areas of interest outside racing, but he also plans to remain involved with the sport.
He’s enjoyed broadcasting and would be “really open to any of that stuff,” but indicated he has no plans to return to full-time racing. The decision, he said, wasn’t the result of a grand epiphany, and he’s at peace with not having a set plan for his immediate future.
“There’s no life raft I’m jumping onto,” Edwards said. “I’m just jumping. … Life is short. You’ve got to do what your gut tells you, and I have a feeling I’ll find something.”
As for ever racing again?
“I don’t have a plan to drive a race car right now, but I know how things work,” he said. “If it comes up and the right opportunity is there and, at that moment, it’s the right thing, then I’d entertain it.”
Edwards said his first call, if he ever sought to return, would be to Gibbs, who compared the decision to Barry Sanders’ retirement from the NFL and used the word “surprise” five times in discussing Edwards’ departure.
Edwards also was asked about possible political ambitions.
“I’m not prepared right now to participate in any public office or anything, but I am very open to helping that cause and helping the cause of liberty and freedom and what it is that America is about,” said Edwards, whose Gibbs-owned No. 19 Arris Toyota displayed a Gadsden flag next to his facsimile signature.
NASCAR has seen several high-profile retirements — most notably Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart — in recent years and Dale Earnhardt Jr. mulled a forced retirement after a concussion forced him to miss the final 18 races of the 2016 season.
“It’s a risky sport,” said Edwards, who insisted he’s 100 percent healthy. “I’m aware of the risks. I don’t like how it feels to take the hits that we take. I’m a sharp guy and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years, so those risks are something that I want to minimize.”
Edwards understands the timing of his decision, which was announced five weeks from the beginning of Speedweeks at Daytona, might seem unusual but stressed that he’s following his gut.
Initially, Edwards was weighing retirement after the 2017 season.
“After Homestead, I had some time to sit, think and reflect about all of this and, for those three reasons that I gave you, I thought, ‘Man, I can’t come up with a good reason why now isn’t a good time.’ ”
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France wished Edwards well in a statement released Wednesday morning: “Carl 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.”
Daniel Suarez, who will become the first full-time Mexico-born driver in Cup history, was officially introduced as Edwards’ replacement.
Edwards’ 28 victories are tied for 26th all-time on the Monster Energy Cup Series and are the fifth most in NASCAR history among drivers without a championship.
His 72 overall wins — including 38 on the Xfinity Series, fourth most in history, and six on the Camping World Trucks Series — rank 12th in NASCAR history.
“My only regret for him is that he wasn’t able to win at Kansas Speedway during his Cup career because I know how much it meant to him to have success at our track,” Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren said.
Edwards, however, is satisfied.
“It’s literally like living a dream …,” he said. “It’s more than I’ve ever expected. I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed of accomplishing.”