Of­fi­cial: Edwards out of sport

Suarez to take over #19 in Cup

The Progress-Index - - SPORTS - Staff and wire re­ports

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Carl Edwards listed rea­son after rea­son for step­ping away from full-time NASCAR com­pe­ti­tion this sea­son, less than two months re­moved from nearly win­ning his first Cup ti­tle.

He’s con­tent with his ca­reer ac­com­plish­ments. He wants to spend more time on his out­side in­ter­ests. He’s healthy and doesn’t want that to change.

Edwards, one of NASCAR’s top stars and driver for a top or­ga­ni­za­tion, re­ally seemed at peace with a per­sonal de­ci­sion he made right be­fore Christmas. But for a brief mo­ment, he had to turn his back to the au­di­ence and com­pose him­self.

“Yeah, I just want to be a good per­son, you know?” he said, his bot­tom lip quiv­er­ing.

Edwards quickly re­cov­ered and re­turned to script. He has so many out­side in­ter­ests — avi­a­tion, agri­cul­ture, a pos­si­ble ca­reer in

pol­i­tics — that he lit­er­ally has no idea what will come next.

“There’s no life raft I am jump­ing on to, I’m just jump­ing,” he said. “This is a pure, sim­ple, per­sonal de­ci­sion.”

Edwards had one year re­main­ing on his con­tract with Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, and he came 10 laps away from win­ning his first Cup ti­tle two months ago. He in­formed Joe Gibbs in late De­cem­ber he did not want to race this sea­son, and used about 40 min­utes Wed­nes­day at team head­quar­ters to ex­plain his rea­son­ing.

“This was such a sur­prise,” Gibbs said. “When he sat down in front of me and shared what he was think­ing, I was to­tally sur­prised. I said, ‘This is a huge de­ci­sion, let’s take some time with this.’”

Four days later, Edwards and Gibbs spoke on the tele­phone and the team owner knew the de­ci­sion was made.

“I could tell he was to­tally com­mit­ted,” Gibbs said.

Roughly 10 min­utes after Edwards fin­ished, Gibbs be­gan a sec­ond news con­fer­ence in which Mex­i­can Daniel Suarez was in­tro­duced as the re­place­ment for Edwards’ No. 19 Toy­ota. Suarez is the reign­ing Xfin­ity Se­ries cham­pion and the first for­eign-born win­ner of a na­tional se­ries crown.

“Since I moved to NASCAR when I was 16 years old, this has been some­thing that I’ve been dream­ing about,” Suarez said. “To be in this po­si­tion is just some­thing amaz­ing.”

Suarez took an un­usual path to NASCAR in that he moved to North Carolina alone in­tent on pur­su­ing a ca­reer in rac­ing that is rare in his coun­try. He knew al­most no English, taught him­self by watch­ing TV and has rapidly risen through the na­tional ranks. He will now be the fourth driver for the most dom­i­nant team in NASCAR.

Edwards also had a dif­fi­cult path. He was a Mid­west racer who filled in the fi­nan­cial short­falls by sub­sti­tute teach­ing. He handed out busi­ness cards at race tracks, placed ads in trade mag­a­zines, any­thing to get his big break.

It paid off with a job driv­ing for Jack Roush that led to a Truck Se­ries cham­pi­onship and a rapid rise through NASCAR’s ranks.

Edwards twice came within mo­ments of win­ning a Cup ti­tle. He lost to Tony Stewart in 2011 on a tie-breaker, then again in Novem­ber when he was lead­ing the sea­son fi­nale with 10 laps re­main­ing when a de­bris cau­tion set up a fi­nal restart. Edwards had to block Joey Logano on the restart and it trig­gered a crash that ended his ti­tle hopes.

De­spite that heart­break, he said he’s walk­ing away con­tent with his 28 ca­reer vic­to­ries.

“You guys know I don’t race just for the tro­phies,” Edwards said. “I’m re­warded by the chal­lenges. I feel ac­com­plished. I know sit­ting in that car, I’m the best I can be.”

Edwards, who lives in his home state of Missouri, is mar­ried to a doc­tor and has two young chil­dren, also wants more time to fo­cus on out­side in­ter­ests.

“This is all-en­com­pass­ing. Full time. Not just phys­i­cal time,” he said. “I think about rac­ing all day, wake up and have dreams about it. I’ve been do­ing it for 20 years. I need to take that time right now and de­vote it to peo­ple and things that are im­por­tant and I’m re­ally pas­sion­ate about.”

He also in­sisted he’s healthy and that no one in his fam­ily needed his at­ten­tion for med­i­cal rea­sons. But, his wife spe­cial­izes in neu­ro­log­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, and Edwards admitted the con­cus­sion is­sues that plagued Dale Earn­hardt Jr. most of last sea­son were a wakeup call to the in­dus­try.

“I can stand here healthy after all the things I’ve done,” Edwards said. “That’s a true tes­ta­ment to NASCAR, the tracks. It’s a risky sport. I’m aware of the risks. I don’t like how it feels to take the hits we take. I’m a sharp guy. I want to be sharp in 30 years.”

In a state­ment re­leased on Wed­nes­day from Rich­mond In­ter­na­tional Race­way, RIR Pres­i­dent Den­nis Bick­meier praised Edwards’ “un­de­ni­able tal­ent and fan-friendly per­son­al­ity” and added that he “has cre­ated many un­for­get­table mo­ments in NASCAR and at Rich­mond In­ter­na­tional Race­way.”

“Our fans will re­mem­ber his in­cred­i­ble fi­nal lap pass in last spring’s TOY­OTA OWN­ERS 400, where he cap­tured the check­ered flag and etched him­self in RIR’s Cup his­tory for the sec­ond time,” said Bick­meier. “Carl’s bright per­son­al­ity and skill­ful driv­ing will be missed at the track by our fans and staff. We wish Carl all the best in the fu­ture.”

NASCAR Chair­man Brian France praised the con­tri­bu­tions Edwards has made to NASCAR and the news con­fer­ence was at­tended by a large con­tin­gent of NASCAR ex­ec­u­tives.

“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.”

And what will that be? Edwards was adamant that he doesn’t know. He promised there were no deals be­ing made with an­other team or man­u­fac­turer.

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


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