EDWARDS NEVER ONE TO FOL­LOW THE BOOK

Step­ping away at 37 sur­prises, but should it?

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Brant James bjames@ us­ato­day. com USA TO­DAY Sports FOL­LOW REPORTER BRANT JAMES @ bran­t­james for breaking mo­tor sports news and anal­y­sis.

Carl Edwards, you icon­o­clast. You ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing, in­tensely pri­vate man. You ap­par­ently are ready to add an­other el­e­ment to the saga that was your lau­reled and on-the- cusp- of­great NASCAR ca­reer.

And you ap­par­ently are ready to do that by end­ing your NASCAR ca­reer — at least for now.

Joe Gibbs Rac­ing isn’t com­ment­ing but has called two news con­fer­ences for Wed­nes­day, per­fect for a re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment and pro­mo­tion of in- house prod­uct and Xfin­ity Se­ries cham­pion Daniel Suarez to the No. 19 Toy­ota that Edwards used to fin­ish fourth in the fi­nal Cup se­ries stand­ings in 2016.

On the face of it, this is truly stun­ning.

A 37- year- old for­mer sub­sti­tute teacher who passed out busi­ness cards in garages be­fore sign­ing with then- power Roush Fen­way Rac­ing in 2003, Edwards has 28 wins in 445 starts over 13 sea­sons at NASCAR’s top level.

He was sec­ond in points in 2008. And he lost the 2011 cham­pi­onship de­spite fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the sea­son fi­nale at Homestead- Mi­ami Speed­way be­cause Tony Stewart won the race to claim his third and fi­nal ti­tle.

He was one of four drivers el­i­gi­ble to fi­nally win that elu­sive crown in Novem­ber but was in­volved in a late in­ci­dent block­ing Joey Logano that wrecked away his chances. In a mo­ment and in a Chase for the Sprint Cup for­mat that has en­gen­dered and at times cel­e­brated the re­lease of rage, Edwards was the model of deco­rum, ac­cept­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity to the point of flab­ber­gast­ing his peers.

If Edwards was con­tem­plat­ing re­tire­ment be­fore that mo­ment, then the mo­ment is all the more in­cred­i­ble. Or he’s all the more ready for what’s next. His last chance at a Cup cham­pi­onship was gone. He didn’t seem to be tak­ing farewell looks be­fore he strode off into his next chap­ter.

Maybe he re­turns as a tele­vi­sion an­a­lyst. Jeff Gor­don made a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion after re­tir­ing fol­low­ing the 2015 sea­son. Dale Earn­hardt Jr. was good at it in a spot role last sea­son. And full- time Cup driver Kevin Har­vick will ex­pand his booth time this sea­son dur­ing Xfin­ity Se­ries races. If so, the im­age of Edwards re­trench­ing to the seclu­sion of the Missouri farm to mind the corn and safe­guard the pri­vacy of his fam­ily will be some­what dero­man­ti­cized. Ex­it­ing a job with NASCAR’s most suc­cess­ful team the last two years, at the peak of his tal­ents, re­mains highly un­usual in a sport in which drivers, like box­ers, of­ten linger a bit long, seek­ing the fairy- tale fin­ish.

Edwards has seemed pained to ven­ture too far into pri­vate de­tails in the past, to ex­tend him­self too far for risk of dam­age — whether lob­by­ing for com­pet­i­tive changes or some other is­sue. But it will cer­tainly be in­ter­est­ing to hear his rea­son­ing this time.

PETER CASEY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

In 13 Cup sea­sons, Carl Edwards was in the top five in points six times. He was fourth in 2016.

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