HAMPTON, Ga. – Halfway through an impromptu news conference at the back of the hauler for the No. 19 Toyota he was scheduled to drive this season, Carl Edwards paused and smiled.
“I should have started this a lot differently,” said Edwards, who was clad in a black button-down shirt branded with an Arris sponsor logo. “I could have messed with you guys somehow on the rumors and stuff. (Mexican multibillionaire) Carlos (Slim) pays me a million dollars a race to come hang out. Penske wants me to spy on the Toyotas.
“No, it’s pretty cool just to be here (and) that they want me here. I’m having fun.”
About six weeks after announcing he was stepping away from NASCAR this season, Edwards returned to a Cup race weekend for the first time this season, serving as a consultant to rookie Daniel Suarez.
But while he spoke highly of his replacement’s ability and learning curve (“He’s doing really well”), Edwards lamented about his absence from the cockpit of the orange Camry.
“Everybody calls it retirement; I haven’t called it retirement officially,” he said. “I admit I brought my helmet and driver suit today, just in case somebody needed something. But I’m having a lot of fun. I’m just so grateful to Coach (Joe Gibbs) and everybody for letting me make the decision I made. But it is cool coming back here and seeing everybody. It’s really fun.”
Someone asked if he would consider a ride in the truck or Xfinity series?
“I thought you said this evening,” he smiled. “I might be in this evening! I don’t know. I think it’s actually hard to come here and be half-in and half out, so I’m going to try really hard to stick to my plan, step away and make sure I get my perspective right, and if I decide I’m going to drive something, I’m going to do it 100%, but right now, I don’t know.
“I’m certain I wouldn’t agree to something full time right now.”
The main question might be if Edwards wanted to climb into his former Joe Gibbs Racing ride if he would have been allowed.
“That’s a great question,” Edwards said when asked if he were licensed. “I don’t know. I’ve snuck into a lot of racetracks and driven stuff, so I’m not above doing that. I don’t know. I haven’t filled out any paperwork.
“I did tell Richard Buck this morning I’m pretty sure that I passed the drug test, so that’ll be good.”
NASCAR confirmed Friday that Edwards hadn’t been issued a license yet this year.
Suarez said the team hadn’t discussed whether Edwards might take some laps in his car. “I don’t even think he has a license anymore,” Suarez said, adding with a smile. “I don’t even know how that (would) work. Honestly, we didn’t think about it. Definitely, he’s going to be here to help.”
Edwards flew his Cessna in Friday morning from his home of Columbia, Mo., where he lives with his wife and two young children. He deflected questions about how things were going at home. “You know I don’t talk about them, but everything’s been going really well,” he said. “I’m really, really grateful to have made the decision I made.”
Edwards, who has been using his plane to ferry medical patients who can’t fly commercial, said he could leave “at any minute” but might stick around through Saturday’s practices.
“Whenever they say they’re done with me, I’ll take off,” he said.
Suarez, who asked Edwards to attend during a commercial shoot Tuesday, seemed to acclimate quickly to the 1.54-mile oval, turning the 16th-fastest lap in the first practice.
“I thought it would be more talking to him about the racetrack, but he’s super quick and learning the place, obviously,” Edwards said. “He’s pretty fast.
“It’s been pretty neat just to be able to help him a little bit. I guess the proof will be in qualifying here. He’ll have somebody to blame it on if it goes poorly.”
That would be unlikely as Suarez clearly appreciates the help.
“He’s a great guy, very good friend,” he said of Edwards. “He just asked me, ‘Hey Daniel, do you want me to go over there? Do you think it would be helpful?’ I said, ‘Man to have a driver like you who has a bunch of wins here in Atlanta, it’s a big deal.”
Edwards, who has three Cup wins at Atlanta (including the first of his career 12 years ago), said he missed the people as much as anything about the NASCAR garage, said he didn’t have a schedule for future Cup races where he might help Suarez.
“I think some (tracks) I can help them,” Edwards said. “Some places I can’t. I think very quickly, I’ll be out of the picture because it’s his team. He’s proven himself. He doesn’t have to have me here. I’m only in addition to what he’s already got, and it’s only because he wants me here.
“I definitely don’t want to get in the way. I’m not a hanger-on type of guy. If they don’t want me here, I won’t be here.”
Edwards said he’d stay for Sunday’s race if asked but added it might not be that fun based off the Daytona 500.
“It was hard to watch the start of the 500,” he said. “But once they started wrecking a little bit, it wasn’t that hard to walk away from the TV. But this place, I love this place. I miss driving while I’m standing here.”
Edwards joked that at home, he mostly had been “spending a lot of time with my chainsaw in the woods. Probably end up in an emergency room soon. I’ve been doing stuff outside the house. I’m not good in the house yet.”
Was he still interested in running for Senate as a report indicated in January?
“I haven’t decided on the political stuff,” he said. “Like I talked about at that press conference, I really believe in individual freedom and liberty and what the United States is based upon. I think, like anybody, I’ve been paying attention. It’s a little scary what’s been going on as a whole in our country and in the world.
“If I can help with that down the line, great. But I don’t have any firm plans right now.”