Carl Edwards ‘stepping away’ from NASCAR, cites career satisfaction, desire to stay healthy and other pursuits

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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.

“I have really strong feelings about our country and what America is about and the principles that keep us free and safe from the biggest risks in history,” Edwards said. “I’m not prepared right now to participate in any public office or anything, but I’m open to helping that cause of liberty and freedom.”

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.

Many of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s most memorable career moments

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Trying to condense 18 seasons, 603 starts, 26 wins, 149 top-fives, 253 top 10s and 13 poles into one highlight reel is a challenge, indeed.

In light of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement today that he’ll retire at the end of this season as a NASCAR Cup driver, let’s take a walk down memory lane of some of Junior’s most memorable races and accomplishments.

2000 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first career Cup victory at the same site he earned his first Xfinity win a few years earlier: Texas Motor Speedway. He would earn his second career win several weeks later at Richmond.

2000 – Junior earns his first – and only one to date – NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

2001 – In an emotional celebration, Junior wins the Pepsi 400 at Daytona and dedicates his third career Cup win to his father, who was killed less than five months earlier in the season-opening Daytona 500.

2001 – In the first NASCAR race following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins an emotional and stirring MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover International Speedway.

2001 to 2003 – Junior wins four straight Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, which would become his most prolific track with six overall wins to date there. Here’s his four wins in a row at ‘Dega:

2001 – EA Sports 500 — Junior wins the race and earns a $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus.

2002 Aaron’s 400

2002 EA Sports 500 — and the final $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus

2003 Aaron’s 499

2004 – Junior earns his first of what would be two Daytona 500 victories. “I’m a Daytona 500 champion. I can’t believe it,” Junior said in Victory Lane.

2010 – Earnhardt wins the Subway Jalapeno 250 Xfinity Series race at Daytona. This race was all the more memorable because Junior drove a retro-looking No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing that paid homage to his late father, who was sponsored by Wrangler.

2014 – Earnhardt earns what would prove to be the second and final Daytona 500 win of his career, with now-NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte as his crew chief.

2015 – Earnhardt records his most recent Cup win in the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix Raceway (ceremonially renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for this race). It was also Earnhardt’s third career win at Phoenix.

 

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Who are the candidates to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88? Here’s a short list

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With Tuesday’s news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leaving NASCAR after the 2017 season, Hendrick Motorsports would seem to have multiple internal and external candidates to fill the ride.

Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet would be the top-tier opening for 2018. The car is prepared in the same building as the No. 48 of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson and is a teammate to Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne. Since taking over the No. 88 in 2008, Earnhardt has made the playoffs in six of nine seasons, notched nine victories and finished top 10 in points three times (he might have again in 2012 if he hadn’t been sidelined for two races by a concussion).

Some of the decision assuredly will depend on sponsorship (in a statement, Nationwide said it fully supported Earnhardt’s decision and would continue its relationship with the 14-time most popular driver beyond 2017), but here are a few names to consider — starting with two already in the Hendrick fold:

William Byron: Signed to a developmental deal with the team last August, he unquestionably is the future of Hendrick Motorsports along with Elliott.

Byron, 19, showed prodigious talent as a rookie in the Camping World Truck Series with a circuit-leading seven victories (he was robbed of the championship because of a mechanical failure while dominating Phoenix). He is only seven races into his Xfinity career but is a solid second in points with five top 10s and two top fives.

There will be questions about whether it would be rushing too much to promote him to Cup in his third full season in a NASCAR national series, but if he’s the eventual solution, why wait to promote him? Kyle Larson was moved into Cup after only a full season of Xfinity, and his development into the 2017 points leader has proved the pitfalls that surrounded Joey Logano’s entry into Cup as an inexperienced teenager can be avoided.

Alex Bowman: He filled in admirably for an injured Earnhardt with three top 10s in 10 races last year (qualifying on pole position at Phoenix and leading 194 laps). Bowman, who turned 24 today, also ran full time in Cup from 2014-15, so he has nearly 81 starts in the premier series as well as five top fives in 50 Xfinity starts.

Still under contract to Hendrick, his yeoman work on the driving simulator has drawn praise from the organization and its drivers.

But the Tuscon, Ariz., native still doesn’t have a resume that is eye-catching as Byron’s, and his upside might be a more difficult sell to sponsors.

Carl Edwards: Since stepping away from NASCAR in a stunning announcement three months ago, Edwards steadfastly has maintained he isn’t retired. While visiting Atlanta Motor Speedway to help rookie replacement Daniel Suarez with his former No. 19 Toyota, Edwards brought his helmet and firesuit just in case.

He seems open to driving in Cup again, though he is remaining coy about it. Asked by NBC Sports if the No. 88 was an opportunity he would consider, Edwards jokingly replied, “You may have it mixed up. I’m recruiting Dale to drive a tractor!” (He also added he was happy for Earnhardt, and that it would be a great ride for someone.)

With 28 victories in the Cup series and a megawatt smile and sponsor appeal, Edwards’ name figures to come up whenever there is an opening, even if he seems to be enjoying life on his farm in Columbia, Mo. He also was courted by Hendrick about a decade ago (which Jeff Gordon confirmed in 2011 when Edwards was in the midst of re-upping for the last time with Roush Fenway Racing).

–Any other qualified veteran: Hendrick could decide Byron isn’t ready for the No. 88 yet next season but is the answer for 2019.

Would it make sense to consider putting NBCSN analyst Greg Biffle (who has indicated he still would like to race) or another driver with winning credentials (such as David Ragan or Regan Smith, who has Hendrick and JRM ties) in the No. 88 to keep the seat warm for Byron in 2019?

Given that Hendrick waited a year for Kahne to join its ranks, and Stewart-Haas Racing did the same with Clint Bowyer, it isn’t an implausible scenario.

A look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s most popular tweets

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s NASCAR racing career has been long and memorable and will end after the 2017 season.

But his social media career has been short, insightful, news breaking and often times hilarious.

After years of dragging his feet, the 14-time most popular driver joined Twitter on Feb. 24, 2014 after his second Daytona 500 and NASCAR hasn’t been the same.

In hindsight, Earnhardt’s social media use has been a captivating look at the twilight of his racing career, which began with arguably one of the biggest wins of his career.

Here’s a look at Earnhardt’s eight most retweeted tweets.

  1. Feb. 24, 2014 – The morning after his second Daytona 500 win, Earnhardt poses with a statue of his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., that is outside Daytona International Speedway. It’s been retweeted 26,629 times.

2.  Feb. 24, 2014 – Just after 2:30 a.m. ET, the NASCAR and Twitter world changed forever when Earnhardt posted his first surprise tweet from Victory Lane after winning his second Daytona 500. It was Earnhardt’s first Cup win since the June 2012 Michigan race and only his second Cup win since 2008. It’s been retweeted 20,026 times.

3. Feb. 18, 2015 – Fourteen years after his father was killed in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt acknowledged the anniversary. It has been retweeted 10,788 times.

4. January 19, 2017 – Earnhardt is an unabashed fan of sports outside of NASCAR, including of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Earlier this year, Earnhardt couldn’t attend a Hornets’ home game. So he decided to give his tickets to one lucky winner. 7,925 people retweeted his post hoping to win.

5. Feb. 25, 2017 – The day before what would turn out to be his last Daytona 500 start, Earnhardt shared a video that had been posted by the official NASCAR Twitter account. Backed with the song “My Old Man” by the Zac Brown Band, the video is a fond remembrance of his relationship with his father. Roughly 7,600 people shared his sentiment.

6. Dec. 11, 2014 – This tweet takes a little bit more of an explanation. Ten months after joining Twitter, Earnhardt tagged rapper J. Cole in a tweet, mentioning he was “funny” with a hashtag #ShitChangedMyLifeBro. The hashtag is a reference to one of J. Cole’s songs, “Note to Self.” Cole referenced Earnhardt in the song after he saw in an ESPN interview that Earnhardt listened to one of his songs before races. The Twitter interaction led to 7,601 retweets and an ESPN: The Magazine cover story.

7. April 29, 2014 – Two months after joining Twitter, Earnhardt very simply wished his late father a happy birthday. It was retweeted more than 6,800 times.

8. Aug. 10, 2014 – Few personally know the tragedy associated with auto racing more than Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Aug. 9, 2014, sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed when a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart struck the 20-year-old. Ward had approached the racing lane on foot following a crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York. The following morning Earnhardt tweeted his condolences to Ward’s family. It was shared 5,579 times.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Richmond International Raceway

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NASCAR makes its first visit of the year to Richmond International Raceway this weekend as the Cup and Xfinity Series compete on the .75-mile track.

Cup teams will hold the Toyota Owners 400 while Xfinity teams gear up for the ToyotaCares 250.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup Series – Toyota Owners 400

There are 38 cars on the entry list for the Cup race.

Last year, Carl Edwards won this race with a bump-and-run on teammate Kyle Busch on the final turn. Busch had led 78 laps in the race before Edwards, who led 151 laps, powered his way to the victory.

Denny Hamlin won the fall race from the pole after leading 189 laps.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity Series – ToyotaCares 250

Five Cup drivers are among the 42 cars entered into the race, including: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.

The race is the third Dash 4 Cash race of the year, meaning Cup drivers with five years or more experience are not eligible to compete in the race.

Last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this race after leading 128 of 149 laps. Kyle Busch won the fall race after leading 197 of 250 laps.

Click here for the entry list.