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.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.