Carl Edwards had a unique way of getting his chance racing in NASCAR, and he departed the sport in even more unique fashion. The guy who used business cards to try to get his name out there became the guy who won 28 Cup Series races and 38 in the Xfinity Series, then abruptly retired after the disappointment of how 2016 finished.
His career didn't end because he got old. He didn't lose his ride to some young upstart. Edwards just walked away, in a way few drivers have — after leading the final race of the year within sight of his first season title in the Cup Series.
Not only was it strange timing, the guy has pretty much gone underground since then. He hasn't granted a lot of interviews (I mean hey, he hasn't even been on The Dale Jr. Download — and everybody who is anybody does that podcast).
But this past weekend — one in which he not only came out in public but actually broadcast the second segment of the race at Darlington — he dropped some hints. He stated that retirement is getting "harder and harder" to embrace at age 43, and he's beginning to get the itch to get back on the track "to see if I could still drive" at stock car racing's highest level. Considering how many of NASCAR top recent drivers have stepped away in the past five to 10 years, one does have to wonder: how many titles would Edwards have won since 2016 if he'd just stuck around?
His reasons for leaving — officially — were that he was satisfied with his 28 wins, his two runner-up finishes for season championships, the fact he still had all his marbles, and that he had plenty of money and didn't need any more to be happy. At the same time, the B.S. alarms were going off for a lot of people when he said that. Why? Because this guy was a gritty competitor, and you know the fact he never won a season's title really bothered him.
So that brings us to Edwards' final race. It was November 20, 2016 at Homestead-Miami, and Carl was running quite well and a debris caution came out that bunched the field up enough where a wreck happened later. Some still question those kinds of cautions today. Kenny Wallace did, in his YouTube video where he tries to explain why he thinks Edwards left NASCAR. Last year, Toyota Racing executive David Wilson did an interview with The Athletic about how Edwards was screwed out of a potential championship by NASCAR trying to spice up the race, and how Toyota called the sport out for those kinds of cautions in a meeting — leading to what Wilson said have been improvements.
Bottom line? The insinuation from a guy like Wallace and the frustration from Wilson (Edwards drove a Toyota at that time) hint that they know something we don't: that Edwards walked out incensed about how a B.S. caution or two could cost him his first season's championship, that the sport tried to spice up an overall boring race (like most at Homestead) and ruined his chances when he was leading laps and dominating the race at times. One has to figure he was thinking — if that's the way it is, I don't need it anymore.
Who knows, maybe Edwards agrees with Wilson today and feels the sport doesn't do that sort of "phantom caution" crap as much as it used to. I'd tend to agree with that. Remember those days where you'd sit and watch the race on one of the boring 1.5-mile tracks and the single-file racing was so boring you could have mowed the lawn three times and not missed squat? And then a piece of Saran Wrap would suddenly show up on the track and force a caution to scrunch things back up. Hell, maybe it was a sponsorship: "This is the Scrunch it up Caution, brought to you by the folks at Saran Wrap." We all know a race car going 200 MPH can't handle a dangerous piece of Saran Wrap, right?
But I swear that kind of silliness happened during boring races, just to spice them up. And hey, maybe it did spice it up, but when a race team has busted its rear end to make a car strong at a 1.5-mile track — and he's 20 car lengths ahead as a result — can you imagine how frustrated they'd be to see something silly like this wreck them out of it?
To NASCAR's credit, it really doesn't seem like that's happened as much lately — and coincidentally, Edwards seems to be sniffing the sport again after quite a hiatus living in his home state of Missouri.
"I like sliding stuff around and driving cars," Edwards said during the second segment broadcast, answering fellow analyst Clint Bowyer. "So there will be a time when I go do something. Maybe sim work, something like that ... to see if I could still drive. It's a step-by-step process. I love racing cars. I love driving cars. But I want to do it at 100 percent."
Wouldn't it great to have Carl Edwards back in some capacity?
MORE: Carl Edwards Is All Aboard the Trackhouse Racing Hype Train
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