Ryan: Carl Edwards’ bombshell move fits the career pattern of a guarded star

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MIAMI – Carl Edwards didn’t seem as if he were someone in the middle of a midlife career crisis.

He was a man in the middle of a fashion emergency.

“Is anyone here a size 33/34 waist?” Edwards, clad in his firesuit, asked a group of NBC Sports producers and reporters entering an interview room last Nov. 17 at the Loews hotel in Miami Beach. “My motorhome broke down, and I need pants for a casual dinner.”

Four days from nearly capturing his first championship in NASCAR’s premier Cup Series division and without having a bed secured to sleep in at Homestead-Miami Speedway (the motorhome and his wardrobe were stuck in Tallahassee), Edwards calmly sat down and politely answered questions for 15 minutes.

His demeanor never changed from the NASCAR star who is always affable in front of a camera.

He didn’t betray the slightest of hints he would turn the NASCAR world upside down with the bombshell of the year on a previously quiet Tuesday morning seven weeks later.

You always know what you will get in an interview with Carl Edwards – a professional take on whatever the question is, and answered with the measured intelligence and perspective of a man who once taught high school on the side.

But it’s what you don’t know that always lingers from interactions with the strapping driver from Columbia, Mo.

That was the primary takeaway from the stunning news that Edwards is stepping out of NASCAR for 2017.

A news conference at Joe Gibbs Racing at 10 a.m. Wednesday is expected to explain the reasons for his sudden and stunning absence while at the top of his game.

Barring a mistake on a late restart in the Nov. 20 season finale at Miami, Edwards, who turned 37 last August, might be joining Formula One’s Nico Rosberg as the second champion in the past five weeks to leave the sport while ruling it.

Edwards will make it three consecutive seasons (in the wake of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart) that a star’s departure is a major storyline in NASCAR, but this one (at least initially) was shrouded in mystery.

We understood why Gordon and Stewart were hanging it up.

When Edwards takes the stage at JGR headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina, the reasons he provides will be the first time that virtually anyone– even teammates and team members – will know why he elected to vacate the final year of a deal he signed in 2014 that seemingly set him up for several years.

Since Edwards informed team owner Joe Gibbs of his decision in mid-December, he hasn’t let many others in on the rationale.

Is this a temporary move in which he would return in 2018?

Is it driven by concerns about his health (his season ended with that wicked hit at Miami)?

Is it simply a desire to spend more time with family?

It isn’t unusual to have such questions about Edwards, who has been a bit of an enigma during his career. Stewart once referred to him as the “Eddie Haskell of NASCAR,” recalling the Leave It to Beaver character whose motives can cast suspicion. A decade ago, his Roush Fenway Racing teammates openly talked about struggling to understand Edwards (whom Kurt Busch said was nicknamed “The Carl.”).

Few drivers are more sponsor-friendly than Edwards, who is smooth and savvy with a corporate pitch.

Yet few also are more guarded about their personal lives. Edwards is among the only NASCAR drivers who isn’t on Twitter. If he was, it’s highly unlikely he would share the de facto family photo albums that so many stars do.

Edwards’ family always has been off limits to the news media. Stories that have reported the names of his kids or his wife’s place of employment have made Edwards livid, and he has demanded corrections that scrubbed the Internet of pertinent details.

While most of the NASCAR community lives in the Charlotte area, Edwards has made a home in Columbia, Mo. He owns a 425-acre farm there (and has declined several interview requests to discuss his work on it).

During that sitdown last November, Edwards explained how his Midwestern childhood had been “shaped by Tom Cruise movies. I wanted to be a pilot after I saw Top Gun. Motorcycles, chicks and airplanes and all that. Days of Thunder, the race car driver thing. Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to drive something. I was begging to drive.”

It was revelatory as to the forces that formed Edwards as a racer.

It also was a window into the life he will be choosing after he vacates a multimillion-dollar job that has earned him at least $80 million in winnings and annually compensates him in the eight figures.

“There are a bunch of things that make Missouri great,” Edwards said. “Really, it’s the people. I haven’t been anywhere where there’s better folks than Missouri.

“For me, the Midwestern mentality is pretty simple. It’s just do your job, do your work, be kind to people. Your reputation will follow. I’m really proud to be from Missouri.”

On Wednesday, we should learn why he is proud to return there.

It might offer rare insight into a man who always has worn the pants when it comes to his private life.

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler having fun mentoring William Byron

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If there’s anyone in the Xfinity Series William Byron should turn to for advice during his rookie season in the series, it’s Elliott Sadler.

A veteran of more than 800 NASCAR races across all three of its national series, Sadler has taken the lead in advising the 19-year-old driver this season. During his appearance on NASCAR America, Sadler praised the driver and the time he’s spent with him.

“That kid is special,” Sadler said. “I want to be that guy (that helps), because I had that guy. I had Jeff Green when I started, I had Dale Jarrett, people I could lean on all the time that could help the learning curve.”

Sadler leads the points standings with four races left in the regular season, but he is winless so far. Byron has earned three wins and is second in points behind Sadler.

“He’s a student of the game,” Sadler said. “I’ve been in meetings with young kids that come along, we’ve been in the meeting and kids are still playing on their phones. I’m in a meeting with William … and he’s still learning and taking notes. He’s got great questions. We’re usually sitting beside each other on the airplanes and we’re talking about things for that particular weekend. I can’t help him drive the car faster. But I can help him maybe with restarts and getting on pit road. Maybe things to think about on Friday to maybe make your car better for Saturday.”

Watch the video for more from Sadler on Byron and his friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler paying tribute to Cale Yarborough with Darlington paint scheme

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Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler will honor childhood racing hero Cale Yarborough with his paint scheme for the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway.

Cale Yarborough poses with his Hardee’s car during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Exhibit Unveiling at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The JR Motorsports driver revealed the paint scheme Tuesday on NASCAR America. His No. 1 Chevrolet will have the same color blocking, but not colors, of Yarborough’s famous No. 28 Hardee’s car.

Sadler is not the only driver that will have some form of the Hardee’s paint scheme at Darlington. Dakoda Armstrong, driver of JGL Racing’s No. 28, will have the exact colors of the Hardee’s car and a logo on the hood commemorating Yarborough.

A five-time winner at Darlington and a three-time Cup champion, Yarborough is a native of Timmonsville, South Carolina, which is roughly 20 miles from Darlington.

Watch the video for the full reveal of the car.

Former Truck Series driver Shane Sieg dies at 34

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Shane Sieg, a former Camping World Truck Series driver and older brother of Xfinity driver Ryan Sieg, died over the weekend at the age of 34.

Ryan Sieg Racing announced his passing Tuesday on social media. He would have turned 35 on Wednesday. A team spokesperson could not provide additional details.

“Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers,” the team said on Twitter. “We lost a great driver and an incredible person. Forever in our hearts.”

A native of Tucker, Georgia, Shane Sieg was a veteran of 68 Truck Series races and two Xfinity starts.

He earned three tops 10 in the Truck Series. His best result was eighth at the Milwaukee Mile in 2004. Sieg also won one race in the NASCAR Southeast Series in 2003 at Huntsville Speedway in Alabama.

Sieg made his last Truck start in June 2011 at Pocono Raceway.

Sieg was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR in August 2011 for violating its substance abuse policy and for actions detrimental to the sport.

Ryan Reed honors Alan Kulwicki, Sam Bass with Darlington paint scheme

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Roush Fenway Racing and artist Sam Bass have worked together to create Ryan Reed‘s throwback paint scheme for the Sept. 2 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN.

Reed’s No. 16 Lilly Diabetes Ford will resemble the No. 7 Zerex Ford driven by Alan Kulwicki in 1989.

Kulwicki was sponsored by Zerex from 1987-90, earning two of his five Cup wins in that time.

“My dad was huge fan of Alan and had a lot of respect for him, so it’s awesome to get to run this throwback scheme in Darlington,” Reed said in a press release. “My Dad ran his own race team and drove for himself throughout the 90s, just like Alan. Alan overcame a lot of challenges to become a champion and I can’t help but have a lot of respect for him.”

Bass, who lives with type 1 diabetes like Reed, worked with Kulwicki during his career and helped design Reed’s car. In a Facebook Live video, Bass said he took extra care to make the one in Reed’s No. 16 resemble Kulwicki’s No. 7.

Bass’ name will also be on the passenger-side nameplate on the roof of Reed’s car.

Reed’s car won’t be the only one at Darlington that will pay tribute to the 1992 Cup champion.

Michael McDowell‘s No. 95 Chevrolet in the Cup Series will resemble the car Kulwicki drove in his 1986 rookie year.