Five Questions: Breaking Down Carl Edwards Leave of NASCAR Racing

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Wow.

It’s okay to admit you’re still in shock over Carl Edwards’ decision to forego his opportunity to stay with Joe Gibbs Racing and leave the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. I know I still am.

Edwards’ announcement came seemingly out of nowhere, announced less than two months after the 37-year-old came less than 10 laps short of his first Cup Series championship.

In the time since that race, Edwards went dark – not unusual given his intense efforts to live a private life. Still, the few things heard from the Missourian and his camp seemed to indicate excitement to compete for a championship again in 2017, not a leave of the sport.

And yet here we are.

While we all collectively try to pick our jaws up off the floor, here are the answers to five of the biggest questions surrounding his decision to walk away.

1) Why’s he doing it?

When the story of Edwards’ decision to hang up the gloves first broke on Tuesday morning, the first question most began asking was ‘why?’.

Was it health related? Did a sponsor change their support to another driver?

As it turns out, those worries were false. The decision for Edwards to leave had three factors, none of them bad. They were:

1) Satisfaction: Edwards truly feels satisfied with the way his career –a 15-year ride that’s included 28 Cup Series wins and an XFINITY Series championship– has gone.

“I am personally satisfied with my career, and I know right now you’re thinking, well, you don’t have a championship,” Edwards said in his announcement. “Well, 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 always been a really ‑‑ this has been a neat journey for me and it’s always been something that I’ve been rewarded by the challenges, and there’s some race car drivers sitting here, Ricky, and you know how it is.  It’s scary in so many ways to go racing.  I mean, initially, first time I stepped on the throttle of my dad’s race car, I mean, I thought I was the greatest driver ever, and about a half second later I pulled my foot right off, and I couldn’t get it to go back down, and I thought, man, this is going to be tough.  So 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.

“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.

2. Refocused Time: After more than a decade spent on the Cup Series tour full-time, Edwards knows as well as anyone else the amount of time and dedication that goes into competing full time on NASCAR’s highest level. And while he seems to be glad for the years he’s spent focusing on being the sport’s best, Edwards feels that the time has come to shift his time to other

“You guys, we do this, and it’s full‑time,” Edwards said. “And not just the physical time, but I wake up in the morning thinking about racing.  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.”

3. Health: Health was one of the major stories of 2016, with John Wes Townley, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., all missing races due to incidents both on and off-track. Add Kyle Busch’s grisly leg injuries from 2015, and it’s easy to notice some of the sport’s biggest stars missed noticeable chunks of time due to injuries over the past few seasons.

After years of scary crashes of his own –Talladega 2009 comes to mind– Edwards understands the risk he’s taken with each trip inside of the car. As he starts to age, the Missouri native doesn’t wish to keep that risk up each week.

“I’m aware of the risks,” Edwards said. “I don’t like how it feels to take the hits that we take, and 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.”

2) Is this a retirement?

Well, not exactly.

Edwards is stepping away from the Cup Series and other full-time NASCAR competition. That much is for certain. The 37-year-old also indicated that he has no current plans to return behind the wheel in the near future.

Still, Edwards wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

Who can blame him? Edwards just finished off a season which saw Jeff Gordon, who retired at the end of 2015, return to the Cup Series to complete a partial schedule in place of the injured Earnhardt for Hendrick Motorsports, and former star Rusty Wallace come back to compete in the Ferrari Finali Mondiali.

The odds of Edwards being asked to return in 2017 are low – essentially dependent on another injury. However, there could be potential for the star to return for 10 or more years given the young age he’s electing to leave at.

Does Edwards intend to come back at this time? No. Could that change? Yes.

So no, Edwards isn’t retired. At least not technically. 

3) Does Edwards have any offers?

No.

Edwards’  quote: “This is not a decision because I have something else lined up or the desire to go line something up.  I can’t tell you that while my phone has been off I haven’t got some offers or something crazy in there.  I don’t know.  But I am not entertaining and have not contemplated anything else like that.  Nothing.”

Edwards has no intent to compete full-time in any division of motorsports in 2017 and beyond, though the Missourian didn’t rule out the possibility of making a one-off start or other opportunities.

What the future holds for Edwards is uncertain, but if the 37-year-old does ever decide to come back, expect the opportunity to go through Joe Gibbs, if not with him.

“I just know how things work, and if it comes up and the right opportunity is there and at that moment, it’s the right thing, then for sure I’d entertain it,” Edwards said. “But like I said, the first person I’d talk to is Coach.”

4) With Edwards out, who’s going to drive JGR’s No. 19 Toyota?

Thanks to Edwards shocking decision to leave, the 2017 rookie landscape is due for a twist.

2016 XFINITY Series champion Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 19 Toyota in 2017, JGR confirmed in a press conference held minutes after Edwards’ announcement. The Monterrey, Mexico, native will step up from his planned Xfinity Series tour to compete full time on the Cup Series circuit, competing against former teammate Erik Jones for Rookie of the Year.

5) What’s next for Edwards?

No one’s certain just yet, not even Edwards.

Edwards’ decision wasn’t made because of another opportunity he had tucked away. The JGR driver made the call simply because he wanted to step away.

Given that, Edwards’ future is difficult to forecast.

“That’s one of the beauties about this decision,” Edwards said. “I don’t have a ‑‑ there’s no life raft I’m jumping onto.  I’m just jumping.”

Edwards mentioned his love of aviation when asked about his plans. He could tend to fields in Missouri, run for public office or even return to some NASCAR tracks as a broadcaster.

At just 37 years old, Edwards could potentially have decades of life left to live, and with his good reputation and charismatic personality anything seems possible.

In the end, Edwards’ next chapter will come much like the end of the last, on his own terms.

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