Carl Edwards is “stepping away from full-time driving” in NASCAR competition effective immediately due to satisfaction with his career, a desire to stay healthy and devote his life to other pursuits.
Defending Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez will replace Edwards in the No. 19 Toyota.
“I am healthy … and all the people close to me are healthy,” Edwards said after noting “I don’t like the feeling that comes with the hits that we take. I’m a sharp guy. Want to be sharp in 30 years. Those risks are minimized.”
When asked if Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s concussion recovery played into his decision, Edwards said “I think everybody in the sport paid attention … Yeah, I looked at that.”
Edwards further detailed his three reasons for leaving racing behind.
Career satisfaction – “I am truly, I am personally satisfied with my career, and I know right now you’re thinking, well, you don’t have a championship. 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 been a neat journey for me and it’s always been something that I’ve been rewarded by the challenges.”
Desire for other life pursuits – “This is an all‑encompassing thing. You guys, we do this, and it’s full‑time. 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.”
His health – “I can stand here healthy, and that’s a testament after all the racing I’ve done and all the stupid stuff I’ve done in a race car, that is a true testament to NASCAR, to the tracks, to the people who have built my race cars, to my competitors, and to the drivers who have come before me who haven’t been so fortunate. Having said that, though, it’s a risky sport. I’m aware of the risks. 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.”
Edwards made his announcement Wednesday morning at Joe Gibbs Racing, 46 days before the 59th Daytona 500. The announcement was attended by high-ranking NASCAR executives Mike Helton, Steve O’Donnell, Steve Phelps and Jill Gregory.
“This is the most scared I’ve ever been about something, just talking about this process,” said Edwards. “In my mind, I considered next year being my final year, but I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it. After Homestead, I had time to sit, reflect and think about all this. I can’t come up with a good reason why now isn’t a good time.”
“I am personally, truly satisfied with my career,” Edwards also said. “You know I don’t just race for the trophies.”
He said he has no plans to return to racing, but if he does, the first person he’ll contact is Joe Gibbs.
“That is one of the beauties of this decision, there’s no life raft I’m jumping into, I’m just jumping,” Edwards said. “Who know what the future holds, I’m open to ideas.”
Edwards was asked if he has any interest in pursuing political office.
Joe Gibbs later addressed how Edwards’ decision came about.
“This was such a surprise,” Gibbs said. “I was all set for the holidays. I was in a meeting and they said ‘hey, Carl stopped by.’ I figured it would be ‘hey, have a great Christmas.’ When he sat down in front of me … I was totally surprised. The first thing I did was I said this is a huge decision, let’s spend some time thinking about it. This took four days .. Then we got hooked up again on the phone and I could tell he was really committed to stepping away from racing.”
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France released a statement on Edwards’ decision.
“Carl Edwards has made an indelible mark on NASCAR,” France said. “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. We wish Carl nothing but the best as he enters this next phase in life.”
Edwards, 37, is leaving the cockpit two months after completing his 12th full-time Cup season last year. He placed fourth in the standings after a late-race wreck in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He was in contention for the title after having won his 28th Cup Series event two weeks prior in a rain-shortened race at Texas Motor speedway.
The initial reports around Edwards’ eventual announcement took most of the racing community by surprise, including his fellow teammates. Erik Jones told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio the news “was not something we saw coming.”
Matt Kenseth, who was Edwards’ teammate for 12 years between their tenures at Roush Fenway Racing and JGR, later said “I really know very, very little about it. … I was probably as shocked as anybody.”
The news was in line with Edwards’ reserved personality and protectiveness of his personal life, which was documented by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan.
The NASCAR world was introduced to Edwards, a native of Columbia, Missouri, on June 22, 2002, in a Camping World Truck Series race at Memphis Motorsports Park. Edwards finished 23rd in the No. 63 truck for Mike Mittler.
A month later he made his Xfinity Series debut at Gateway Motorsports Park driving for Fred Bickford and finished 38th.
In 2003, Edwards joined Roush Fenway Racing and won three Truck races, the first coming on July 13 at Kentucky Speedway. In the No. 99 truck Edwards totaled six wins in two seasons.
Edwards made his Cup Series debut with Roush on Aug. 22, 2004, at Michigan International Speedway. He started 23rd and finished 10th, his first of 220 top 10s.
“I just remember that race – I remember everyone because I couldn’t believe I was on the track with guys like Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace and everyone else,” Edwards said in 2015. “Just the intensity of being able to race with those guys is crazy.”
In 2005, Roush promoted Edwards to full-time competition in both the Xfinity and Cup Series.
In the fifth Xfinity race of the year, Edwards started from the pole and won his first of 38 Xfinity races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Within 24 hours, on March 20, Edwards passed Jimmie Johnson coming out the final turn and beat him by .028 seconds to claim his first Cup win.
Among his 28 Cup wins, the biggest were victories in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, which his team briefly renamed “Carlington Raceway” following the race.
Edwards finished second in the Cup standings twice. Aside from his trademark victory backflips, Edwards will most likely be remembered for his battle with Tony Stewart in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The two entered the finale with Stewart trailing Edwards by three points. The night ended with Stewart winning the race and the title due to a tiebreaker.
With his late crash in the 2016 finale and his announcement on Wednesday, it was the closest Edwards ever came to winning the title.