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.

Top 10 in Charlotte Xfinity race ‘dream come true’ for Kaz Grala

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CONCORD, N.C. — Darius Grala did what any proud father would do after seeing his son do something “amazing” and “absolutely ridiculous.”

With a large grin plastered across his face, he stood on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s pit road and captured the image of Kaz Grala helping push his No. 61 Ford toward the garage.

In his first Xfinity race for Fury Race Cars, the race car building company his father formed in 2016 and that was making its first NASCAR start, Kaz Grala placed 10th.

“That 10th feels like a win to us. No joke,” Darius Grala told NBC Sports. “It’s not like we didn’t dream of having a top 10 when we loaded up to head to the race track. But I got to tell you, that was a tall order and to deliver on it is nothing short of a dream.”

The dream started with a text message from Darius Grala to crew chief Shane Wilson on May 9, formally beginning the process of putting the No. 61 team together after Kaz Grala learned he would be without his ride at JGL Racing after 10 starts.

MORE: JGL Racing owner diagnosed with liver failure.

Seventeen days later, the 19-year-old rookie earned his best result since placing fourth in the season opener at Daytona. It’s his second top 10 through 11 races.

The team, which includes most of the crew who worked on Kaz Grala’s No. 24 car at JGL Racing through the first 10 races, showed up at Charlotte on Thursday without a backup car.

Without any owner points to guarantee a starting spot, Kaz Grala was cautious in practice and Saturday’s qualifying session, which was threatened by rain. But the track was dry when the time came to qualify and the the No. 61 wound up 16th on the board.

Caution was forgotten with the green flag.

“I was aggressive as much as I could be,” Kaz Grala told media at his car afterward. “Really going for it cause I knew these guys deserved a good run. I didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t get it. I was driving my guts out out there. I think I asked for six different water bottles during that race. I was literally leaving nothing on the table. That’s the way you gotta race in the Xfinity Series. Everybody’s too freaking good to not go all out every single lap. I’m really proud of everybody. I can’t thank everyone enough. This is a dream come true.”

He was 11th when a one hour rain delay occurred with 28 laps to go.

On the restart, he lost a few spots before positioning himself for a top 10 in overtime.

“Each additional lap was an additional opportunity to pick up another position,” Darius Grala said. “On that last (run) though, we gained a couple and lost a couple and pretty much ended up where we were. But that’s OK. Top 10 is literally the best we could have possibly hoped for.”

Now the Xfinity team that didn’t exist nearly three weeks ago gets another chance to overachieve. The series heads to Pocono Raceway for a race that will see the restrictor plate package that was used last year at Indianapolis.

“I don’t know how to feel,” Kaz Grala told NBC Sports. “Pocono was one of my favorite race tracks last year. I love it. But we’ve got this weird aero package next week, which I’ve never driven with. My crew chief and most of my crew only has experience with it once, Indy last year. I don’t think they know much of what to expect and I know I definitely don’t. No expectations for us, we’re going to be learning every lap in practice. Hopefully we can have a run to follow this one up. This one’s going to be tough to follow. That’s a good problem to have.”

 

Results, points after Xfinity race at Charlotte

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Brad Keselowski won the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, becoming the first repeat Xfinity winner of the season.

Keselowski won from the pole, beating Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for results.

Points

Elliott Sadler leaves Charlotte with a 38-point lead over Christopher Bell.

Sadler is the only driver to finish in the top 10 all 11 races this season.

The top five is completed by Tyler Reddick (-55), Daniel Hemric (-57) and Cole Custer (-62).

Click here for the standings.

Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity race at Charlotte in overtime finish

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his second win in as many starts this season.

Keselowski, who started on the pole, led 77 laps and won over Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Keselowski also won at Phoenix. He is the first repeat Xfinity winner this season.

He rebounded from pit penalty on Lap 128 for crew going over the wall too soon.

The overtime finish was setup by a debris caution with two laps left in the original 200-lap distance.

The final 28 laps were ran following a one hour rain delay.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

MORE: Race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Cole Custer started and finished second after also leading 29 laps. It’s his second top five of the season … Ty Dillon placed fourth for his first top five in nine Charlotte starts. It’s also his first top five and top 10 of the season .. Elliott Sadler is the only driver with top 10s in all 11 races this season. Heplaced fifth after battling mechanical issues – including a faulty cooling unit – and a speeding penalty.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: After winning the first two stages, Kyle Busch finished eighth after he spun on a restart with 39 laps to go. He had restarted 10th after pitting and got loose trying to pass Dylan Lupton into Turn 1 … Lupton was then eliminated in a wreck with Ty Majeski on the following restart … Chase Elliott placed 37th after experiencing transmission issues on the Stage 3 restart … Tyler Reddck finished 23rd after begin involved in two wrecks, including one during the overtime restart … Justin Allgaier and Jamie McMurray were eliminated in a wreck with 20 to go.

NOTABLE: Alex Labbe had to be replaced in his No. 36 Chevrolet midway through the race by Josh Williams. He was then taken to a local hospital for an undisclosed reason and was later released and cleared to race. … Kaz Grala placed 10th in his first start for Fury Race Cars, a team co-owned by his father. It’s his best result since placing fourth at Daytona for JGL Racing … Kyle Busch is winless in his last four Xfinity starts, his longest stretch since 2014 (eight races).

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Toyota failed post-race height inspection. Tommy Joe Martins had one loose lug nut. Any penalties will be announced next week.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I was just heartbroken whenever I saw that piece of debris fly off those lapped cars.”- Christopher Bell on the debris caution which kept Bell from making a run at Brad Keselowski.

WHAT’S NEXT: Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway at 1 p.m. ET on June 2 on Fox Sports 1.

What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.