Edwards’ Retirement Is A Bit Of A Head-Scratcher

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 12 2017

Carl Edwards announced his retirement from full-time driving this week. Interesting. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Carl Edwards did not have the fitness magazine cover-photo pecs and abs on that day more than a dozen years ago when we sat down in an Italian restaurant in Kansas City’s artsy-hipster Freight House District. He didn’t have a full-time NASCAR Cup ride, let alone the promise of a championship-caliber career in America’s top auto racing series.

But he did have a plan and that one thing that all athletes who want to become champions in their sport need to have above all other attributes: Edwards clearly had raging competitiveness and a disgust for merely finishing second.

He still had those things on subsequent occasions I had to talk to the fellow Missourian over the years (and there were more than a few such occasions) and that is why the news of his retirement – and the reasons for that retirement – seem so mystifying. So incomplete.

Carl Edwards didn’t get into racing, I don’t think, to go down in history as a guy who twice nearly won Cup championships. He didn’t jump into go-karts at 4 years of age, lie about his age and get a fake ID card to go racing as a 15-year-old, hound and harass local businesses in his hometown of Columbia for sponsorship money after becoming legal and then print up and hand out business cards to team owners big and small just to walk away from racing 10 laps short of historical greatness.

Over the last couple of days, I have read and heard racing expert after racing expert say how they are shocked by Edwards’ decision, but also how they understand it. Like on Wednesday afternoon when two TV experts on one of those gab shows in which the on-air talent all talk at the same time and listen to others none of the time, began enlightening viewers about the situation. Both talents – neither of whom had ever set foot in a NASCAR garage or shop as far as I can tell – said they understood Edwards’ decision.

I don’t. I’m not saying he made a dumb decision or a bad one or inexplicable one. He just made one I don’t fully understand.

Edwards finished the 2016 season, and would have started 2017, in prime position. At 37, he was in the peak-driving zone. He was driving for a Joe Gibbs Racing team that is arguably the best in the garages. Far from back-sliding or even plateauing, his driving skills were getting better.

Yes, I understand, there was that big, fiery crash on a restart with 10 laps to go in the 2016 Cup finale at Homestead – a crash that was a result of Edwards needing to block while restarting on the front row and wound up costing him the championship – but you just had to think/know that Edwards would have more chances (plural) at winning Cup’s big, ugly silver trophy in coming seasons.

Perhaps this coming season.

Then came this week.

Despite sharing many of the most important traits of top-tier race car drivers, it was evident as early as the lunch at the Italian restaurant that Edwards was constructed a bit differently as a stock-car driver. He had gigs as a college student and teacher on his resume, and those pierced the stock car veil a bit.

He spoke well, explained things well and could get analytical in doing so. He clearly, and to an oft times frustrating degree, knew that a big part of his job was to sell product for sponsors. He was expert at product placement and seamless in sneaking product references in interviews in front of cameras.

He was the best of soldiers when it came to performing what can often be demeaning tasks required of drivers by sponsors, teams and NASCAR policy makers.

But he also was loyal to fans as he knew the importance of those folks as well. There were the back flips, the forays into grandstands. He said yes to a lot of people.

It’s absolutely true that Carl Edwards was a private person. You always knew there was more to this guy than met the lens and notebook.

Journalists and reporters should never fall into the trap of thinking they “know” the people they interview and when it comes to Edwards that is especially true. No matter how many of those interviews have taken place. When people ask what this or that athlete is really like, the answer here is always, “I don’t really know.”

During his meeting with the media on Wednesday, Edwards gave three reason for his retirement. Good ones, all. Basically, he said, he wanted to keep his health, he wanted to do other things and he felt as though he’d accomplished more than enough during his racing career.

That all sounds plausible.

I guess.

I don’t know Carl Edwards well enough to say how plausible. Indeed, a couple colleagues sent emails yesterday asking, first, was I shocked by the news and, second, is there something else at play here? My answers were, first, “Yes,” I was shocked, and, second, “I don’t know. But…”

What I think I do know is that Edwards was a great driver, a fearless competitor and a guy who would have loved to win a Cup championship.

Meaning? I accept his and honor his decision to retire from full-time Cup racing and, hence, the quest to win a championship, but don’t understand it. I can’t reconcile it with the little I do know about top athletes in general and Edwards in particular.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 12 2017
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