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Saturday May 27th, 2017 12:22AM

Edwards says time is right to walk away from NASCAR

By Pete McCole
  Contact Editor

MOORESVILLE, N.C. - There will be no more backflips for Carl Edwards, who officially announced today that after a 14-year career in NASCAR, he’s calling it quits.

For now.

Just eight weeks losing out at a shot for his first-career NASCAR Cup title, Edwards says he’s hanging up his helmet and will not compete in 2017, but left up the possibility he might return somewhere down the road.

Edwards cited three reasons for his decision: He’s satisfied with his career, he wants to spend more time with his family and he wants to stay healthy.

And, he said, his gut told him the timing was right to walk away.

“This sport is all encompassing. Full time. I think about racing all day – I wake up and have dreams about it,” said Edwards. “I’ve been doing it 20 years. I need to take that time right now and devote it to people and things that are more important and I’m really passionate about.”

Last season, in just his second year with the team, Edwards advanced to the Championship 4 at the season-finale at Homestead. Despite leading the most laps among the four finalists, Edwards’ dreams of his first Cup title ended in a trail of smoke after crashing out with eight laps to go.

After that race, Edwards said, he started to consider walking away from the sport.

“After Homestead, I had some time to sit, think and reflect about all of this, and for those three reasons that I gave you, I thought, man, it just – I can’t come up with a good reason why now isn’t a good time,” said Edwards. “I really believe it’s the right thing. You’ve got to do what your gut tells you. People who know me, know I follow my gut and if all signs point to (stepping away), then that’s what I have to do.”

Edwards, a perennial fan-favorite who celebrated every victory with his signature back-flip, will walk away with 28 Cup victories – tied with Kurt Busch and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rex White for 23rd all-time.

Edwards also tallied six wins in the Camping World Truck Series and 38 Xfinity Series victories, winning the 2007 Xfinity Series title.

Heath concerns also played a role in Edwards decision, citing the risks involved in auto racing and wanting to walk away healthy, in light of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s medical issues with concussions.

“Those risks are something I want to minimize,” said Edwards. “I can stand here healthy after all the things I’ve done. I’m a sharp guy and I want to be sharp in 30 years.”

Edwards was in the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing after signing with the team in 2015, but emphasized that he was not entertaining offers from any other teams, and was not trying to angle for a new contract while at the same time didn’t rule out coming back to drive at some point.

“There’s no life raft I’m jumping into,” said Edwards. “I’m just jumping.

“If I’m going to get back in a race car, which I’m not saying the ‘R’ word here, I’ve see how that’s worked out for guys, but if I’m going to get back in a race car, I’m calling Coach Gibbs first. There is no better race team. There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry.”

“This was such a surprise,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “When he sat down in front of me and shared what he was thinking I was totally surprised. We took four days and I could tell he was totally committed (to his decision).”

After announcing his decision, NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Edwards “has made an indelible mark on NASCAR. 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.”

His seat in the No. 19 Toyota Camry will be taken by 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion Daniel Suarez, who will compete for rookie of the year honors in 2017.

“This is amazing,” Suarez said. “I wasn’t expecting to be in this position right now. It’s been an amazing time. This is hard to believe that I’m in this position. We started all this dream 10 years ago with NASCAR, and right now to be in this position, to be in this opportunity is just something amazing for me and for everyone that has been helping me, of course.

“I know that it won’t be easy. We have a lot to work. I have a lot to learn. But I’m sure that it couldn’t happen in a better situation with Dave Rogers and the entire 19 group. It’s just an amazing team. I feel like it’s just a perfect place to be for a rookie like me that is really hungry to learn and to go out there and to perform well.”

Suarez said word of his promotion came via telephone as he was having lunch with his girlfriend and her family.

“I had to jump out of the middle of lunch, and then I never came back after 40 minutes. And then when I came back, Silvia and her parents, they were asking me what was going on because I came back with a smile like this. So they were asking me what was going on. Well, really I wasn’t able to say anything, so I didn’t say anything.”

“Another part of that was when I got through talking to him and telling him what the plan was, I said, you can’t tell anybody. Do you understand?” Gibbs added. “And I said, not your folks. The one thing I forgot to mention was he probably told the girlfriend. But I was so paranoid it was going to get out.”

A native of Columbia, Missouri, Edwards cut his teeth running go-karts at age 15 and two years latter began marketing himself to potential car owners by handing out business cards that read “If you’re looking for a driver, you’re looking for me.”

After dropping out of college after just three semesters, Edwards began to pursue a full-time career in racing.

While working as a part-time substitute teacher, Edwards got his first break in 2002 – running in the NASCAR truck series driving for MB Motorsports, owned by fellow Missourian Mike Mittler.

Despite making just seven starts – which included an eighth-place finish at Kansas – Edwards began to attract attention for other owners, and one year later landed a ride at Roush Racing.

Edwards racked up three truck series wins in his first season for Roush, and two years later was tapped to replace Jeff Burton in Roush’s No. 99 Cup Series entry.

Driving for Roush, Edwards finished second in the points standings in 2008 and 2011 – the latter losing out to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker in the closest points-finish in NASCAR history.

Edwards gave no indication of what he would be doing in the future, only that it did not include any plans to run for public office, and didn’t rule out returning to race again someday.

“I hope you’ll accept that I just – I don’t really have that all figured out yet, and to me that’s okay. I’m at peace with that,” said Edwards. “It’s literally like living a dream. It’s more than I’ve ever expected. I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed of accomplishing. I have the satisfaction that I don’t know how to express, and it’s because it’s been such a challenge.

“I’ve been racing for over 20 years. It’s been something that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have no regrets. It’s been a blast.”

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