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: Matt Kenseth unable to realize potential due to team’s mistakes

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Sunday’s pit road mistake — having seven crew members over the wall when only six are allowed — not only knocked Matt Kenseth out of the race, it also knocked him out of advancing in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

As a result, Kenseth lost out on his bid to earn a second Cup championship in what could potentially be his last season in the Cup series.

And it wasn’t the first time Kenseth has suffered through issues not of his making this season and in prior seasons.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan all gave their thoughts on what happened to Kenseth — and they didn’t hold back, either.

Click on the above video to hear what they had to say about Kenseth’s misfortune and how it could potentially impact his legacy going forward.

 

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s picks for Championship 4

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On Monday’s editions of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his predictions for which of the eight remaining championship-eligible drivers — including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott — will make it to the Championship 4 round.

In addition to Johnson and Elliott, Junior also makes it known in the above video that he’s also pulling for Ryan Blaney. He may even throw in a surprise to his picks.

Our NASCAR America team of analysts go over Junior’s picks and give their take, as well.

We don’t want to spill the beans of who Junior is picking here, so click on the video above to find out, as well as what our analysts think about his picks.

 

 

 

Long: Kyle Larson’s playoff exit significant to title contenders

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Lost among questions about rules, confusion on pit road and chaos on the track Sunday was just how significant Kyle Larson’s departure from the playoff is.

The owner of four wins this season, Larson was one of the few drivers who typically could race with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch on the 1.5-mile tracks and some even considered Larson the championship favorite if he made it to Miami.

“I think Kyle Larson was going to be the car to beat, and still will be the car to beat at Homestead,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch. “Now that he’s not in the (playoff) mix anymore, it probably opens it up for the rest of us.’’

Said Kevin Harvick: “I think you eliminated the best car at Homestead. That’s a big deal. For everybody.’’

Larson entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway with a 29-point cushion before his title hopes ended when his engine blew with nearly 200 laps left. He finished 39th.

“It’s crazy,’’ Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., said of Larson’s playoff exit. “You can’t ever be safe, for sure.’’

Sunday marked the first time since 2013 that Larson failed to finish a race because of an engine failure. His first two career Cup races ended early because of engine issues that season.

Larson’s departure was as shocking as Busch’s exit in 2014 when he entered the elimination race at Talladega second in the standings with a 25-point cushion to advance to the next round.

Now a spot many presumed would be taken by Larson is open for someone else.

WORK REMAINS

Jimmie Johnson overcame two spins to finish 11th and advance to the Round of 8, moving a step closer to an eighth championship.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, though, wasn’t pleased after Sunday’s race.

On the radio afterward, Knaus said: “That was a pitiful performance.’’

Knaus had more to say after the race, telling NBC Sports:

“We ran like (expletive deleted). It was a bad weekend. We managed to capitalize on some other people’s misfortune, which was great for us. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know what’s going on. We definitely don’t have the speed that we need.

“Good news is we’ve got three really good race tracks coming up for us, at least historically. Very optimistic heading into Martinsville and going to Homestead this week to test, so hopefully we can hit on some stuff there to take to Texas. We obviously have run well there in the past. Phoenix has been a really good race track for us as well. We’ve got three great opportunities. Just got to do the best.’’

Knaus is right to be concerned. The second round was mistake-riddled for the team.

The pit crew failed to tighten all the lug nuts late in the race at Charlotte, forcing Johnson to back up partially into his stall to remedy the issue, costing him time and positions.

An error by the team’s spotter led to the crew working on Johnson’s damaged car before the red flag period had ended, leading to the team being parked. The team had hoped to run one more lap after being collected in a crash to gain at least one more point.

Then came Kansas’ woes with the lack of speed, an ill-handling car and a seven-time champion causing back-to-back cautions.

“It’s no real surprise that mile-and-a-halves have been a little bit of a struggle for us this year,’’ Johnson said. “We’re putting in the effort. These guys are working around the clock. I’m looking under every stone I can to try to find something as well. We just don’t have the speed yet.

“We’ve got a real opportunity at Martinsville. If we’re able to win there … it sets us up for Homestead.’’

COMMUNICATION WOES

The communication issues Matt Kenseth’s team had Sunday wasn’t the first time for that team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff in the playoffs.

In the penultimate race of the 2013 season, Kenseth struggled all weekend and then had a disastrous pit stop when there was confusion on if the team would change two or four tires. After the call was made for four tires, Kenseth had to back up because the car was on the air hose.

The result was a 23rd-place finish that left Kenseth so far behind Johnson needed only to finish 23rd or better in Miami to win the title. Ratcliff apologized to his crew on the radio after the race for the effort.

Sunday’s scenario was different but communication again proved key and a miscue will keep the team from having a chance to race for a title.

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ Ratcliff said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully, we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.’’

So what happened?

“Two of them were holding tires (over the wall),’’ Ratcliff said of crew members. “We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically, it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

When Kenseth was told on the radio that he was being parked for having too many crew members work on his car while under the five-minute clock for crash damage, the former champion sounded incredulous that his — last? — chance to win a title ended in such a way.

With no plans announced for next year, there’s no guarantee Kenseth will be racing for a championship again. Now the goal becomes a win.

“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt,’’ Ratcliff said. “That would be special. Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.’’

PIT STOPS

The final eight Cup playoff contenders include four former champions — Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. There has been a first-time champion in three of the last five years, which could be a good sign for playoff drivers Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. … With winning the pole at Kansas, Truex Jr.’s team earned the first pick of pit stalls also at Martinsville this weekend because qualifying is on the same day as the race there.

Memorial service to be held Friday for Furniture Row Racing team member Jim Watson

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A memorial service for Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson will be held Friday in Lincolnton, North Carolina, his family announced Monday.

Watson, who served in a number of roles for both the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr. and No. 77 of Erik Jones, passed away Saturday night after suffering a heart attack in Kansas City, Kansas, where the teams were preparing for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race.

Watson was 55.

MORE: Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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The memorial will be from 4-6 p.m. ET Friday at the Warlick Funeral Home, 125 Dave Warlick Drive, in Lincolnton.

Watson’s obituary was included in the announcement of the memorial service:

Watson was born Sept. 27, 1962, in Kenosha, Wis., to Betty Paulus Watson and the late David Harrison Watson. He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ann Watson; a daughter, Brittany May Watson; his mother, Betty L. Watson; brother, Mike Watson; stepchildren, Eric James Conover and fiancé Claudia Rodriguez, and Matthew Sean Conover; Michael Patrick Conover, and wife Michele, and Nicholas Ian Conover; three grandchildren, Patrick Michael Conover, Michael Winston Conover, and Coleton Daniel Conover; nieces, Jennifer Watson and Katie J. Ballou; and many other uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorials be made to hatsalive.org.