My Brain on NASCAR: Back-flipping Edwards makes safe landing

col-cathyelliottOn Wednesday, Jan. 11, sporting a collared short and blazer rather than his trademark No. 99 Toyota logo-wear, Carl Edwards announced his retirement from full-time NASCAR competition.

The language was clear enough, but exactly what it meant is still to be determined. Even the official Joe Gibbs Racing press release issued immediately after the press conference said that Edwards has “stepped away,” avoiding the word “retired” altogether.

Edwards is one of the most likeable and popular drivers in the sports. He has – had, now – a great job with a premier team. He has come within a whisker of winning the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series title not once, but twice, most recently just last year. Career-wise, he is definitely at the top of his game. So when we hear him say, and I quote, “I’m stepping away from full-time driving in the Cup Series,” the question that immediately comes to mind is, why?

We have an answer, sort of. Three of them, actually, straight from the source.

Reason number one: Edwards is personally satisfied with his career as it stands, and he’s not too worried about whether or not others feel the same way.

“The first time I stepped on the throttle of my dad’s race car, I thought I was the greatest driver ever, and about a half second later I pulled my foot right off, and I couldn’t get it to go back down, and I thought, ‘man, this is going to be tough,’” he said. “So you go from that to working up the courage to ask people to drive a car to being put in situations where you know if you drive well and you win, you get sponsorship and everything works.

“Going through that whole process and becoming a better person, a stronger person, a better competitor, a better teammate, a better friend to people, that’s a big deal to me, and I feel accomplished. And I know when I sit in that race car that I am the best race car driver I can be.  So whether or not I have a championship, I’m really satisfied with that.”

Reason number two: Things in life other than racing matter to him. He described racing as all-encompassing, a sort of hungry Pac-Man-type job that gobbles up time.

“I wake up in the morning thinking about racing. I think about it all day. I go to bed thinking about it.  And I have dreams about racing,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for 20 years, and I need to take that time right now and devote it to people and things that are important to me, things I’m really passionate about.” (Edwards, remember, is married and has two very young children, Anne and Michael.)

Reason number three: He describes himself as being in “perfect health,” and he wants to stay that way.

“I can stand here healthy, and that’s a testament after all the racing I’ve done and all the stupid stuff I’ve done in a race car. That is a true testament to NASCAR, to the tracks, to the people who have built my race cars, to my competitors, and to the drivers who have come before me who haven’t been so fortunate,” he said.

“Having said that, though, it’s a risky sport. I’m aware of the risks. I don’t like how it feels to take the hits that we take, and I’m a sharp guy, and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years.  So those risks are something that I want to minimize.”

He also referenced Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s recent absence from NASCAR competition. Let’s dispense with the whole official “concussion-like symptoms” thing and call Junior’s health issue by its actual name – brain trauma. “Junior is a hell of a guy, and everyone in the sport paid a lot of attention to him. You have to look at the risks,” Edwards said.

What the future holds for Carl Edwards is unclear. He mentioned his love of aviation and agriculture, and said he enjoys broadcasting. There was no epiphany involved in his decision, he said, no defining moment.

“The people close to me know that I follow my gut, as an analytical as I am and as much as I wear people out about the details … I just gather what’s around me, and I say, look, if all signs point to this, then that’s what I need to do.  That’s what got me here in the first place,” he said.

When pressed for more details about those aforementioned things that matter to him outside of racing, he admitted to having “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.  And so I don’t know if I’m — 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.”

Carl Edwards in 2020? Don’t count on it, but as far as racing goes, his self-imposed absence may turn out to be a brief one. He is retiring from FULLTIME racing, and if you’re unclear on exactly what that means, just Google the name Jeff Gordon. That should clear things up.

Edwards will be missed, but you gotta respect a guy for using his still-healthy brain and following his heart. “I’m sure it’s the right direction for my life,” he said, “but there’s no life raft I’m jumping onto. I’m just jumping.”

 

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