Columbia’s Carl Edwards elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame: ‘He was just always fast’

Carl Edwards backflipped his way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Edwards, a one-time high school substitute teacher in his native Columbia, received his sport’s greatest honor on Tuesday when he was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with longtime driver Ricky Rudd and team owner Ralph Moody.

Edwards, who punctuated most of his 28 NASCAR Cup victories with his signature backflip from the rear of his vehicle, won 72 career races across all three national series to rank 14th all-time. That included 38 wins in the Xfinity series and the 2007 series championship, plus six NASCAR trucks series races, including 2004 at Kansas Speedway, one of the most meaningful wins of his career.

“It’s a special feeling to think about all the stuff I was able to do because of so many people,” Edwards, 44, told The Star last year when he was selected one of NASCAR’s 75 greatest drivers. “I am so lucky. ... I grew up racing at my local dirt track and didn’t even imagine I would get to drive in NASCAR. I couldn’t have imagined any of this stuff.

“I got to live the dream and do something that could happen only in my wildest dreams, only in America. And only through something as wild as NASCAR, did I get this opportunity.”

Edwards was a runner-up in the Cup Series two times, including 2011, when he lost on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart in the closest championship race in history and in 2008 when he finished second to Jimmie Johnson despite winning a career-best and series-most nine races.

Edwards appeared headed for the Cup championship in 2016 when he was leading the season finale with 15 laps to go, only to be derailed by a controversial caution. After the restart, Edwards tried blocking an onrushing Joey Logano and collided with him, allowing Johnson to win his seventh and final title.

A crestfallen Edwards would not race again, as he shocked the sport by retiring during the offseason at age 37. The telegenic Edwards, who was one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers and appeared in numerous commercials and television shows such as “The Price is Right” and as a co-host on “Live with Kelly Ripa,” withdrew from public view.

He has continued to maintain a low profile on his farm outside Columbia and was not at the NASCAR Hall of Fame announcement on Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, nor available for comment afterward.

Edwards never looked back on his decision to retire while at the top of his sport.

“I raced cars for about 20 years, and that’s all I thought about, literally, 24 hours a day,” Edwards told The Star in 2021. “That was my focus, and there were other things in my life I wanted to do, and I wanted to do them really well. So I needed the time to do them. I was able to leave on my terms when I wanted, and nothing forced the issue. It’s a luxury, and I’m aware of it.”

Edwards concedes he had concerns about long-term effects of serious injuries after the crash at Homestead.

“It’s a risky sport,” he said, “and we also learned a lot more lately about risks that aren’t so clear. ... It seems that any kind of contact sport over time, you can have lasting damage, cognitive issues. Once you add up the acute risks of racing with those risks, plus I wanted to do other things — I haven’t regretted it for one minute.”

Edwards’ election came as no surprise to some of his former teammates and competitors.

“He was just always fast,” said Denny Hamlin, a teammate of Edwards with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015-16. “When I think of Carl, I think of Kurt Busch. Someone who got to the next level, just performed really well really quickly. It didn’t take them time to get it, they just got it right away. So I just think he was one of the most gifted drivers that you could put in any type of car and he would adapt ultra quick. As far as talent level, I think his talent level far exceeds what his win total was. In my mind, I regard him really high.”

Kyle Busch, another Gibbs teammate, cited Edwards’ work ethic.

“When he was a teammate of ours, he was definitely instrumental in the buildup of our program,” Busch said. “Me, Denny, him and Matt Kenseth … that was the strongest foursome that has ever been in our sport. That was a high time for all of us.”

Edwards began his Cup career in 2004 with Roush Racing. Edwards’ eighth-place finish in a trucks race for St. Louis-based Mittler Motorsports in 2002 at Kansas Speedway caught the eye of Jack Roush, who put him in the trucks series. Edwards won Camping World Trucks Series Rookie of the Year in 2003 and moved on to the Xfinity series in 2005.

Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards (19) smiles at fans during driver introductions prior to during the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10, 2016.
Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards (19) smiles at fans during driver introductions prior to during the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 10, 2016.

Edwards also won his first Cup race in 2005 at Atlanta, and he ran both the Xfinity and Cup Series simultaneously for seven years — a practice not allowed any more — winning the Xfinity title in 2007.

After 11 years with Roush Racing, Edwards moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015 where he won five Cup races in two years and finished in the top 5 in the playoffs in both seasons.

“Carl Edwards won races in all three series,” said Fox television analyst Larry McReynolds a former NASCAR crew chief. “He was very versatile when it came to winning races. He could win them on short tracks, he can win them on super speedways and on any and everything in between.

“To me, a NASCAR Hall of Famer is about your numbers, but it’s about your contribution to the sport as well. Carl Edwards, not only did he do a phenomenal job behind the wheel of that race car, but he did a phenomenal job outside the race car, about being a great ambassador for the sport. The whole time Carl was part of NASCAR, he was a great ambassador. “

Rudd, known as NASCAR’s Ironman for more than a decade, held the Cup Series record for consecutive starts (788) before Jeff Gordon broke it in 2015. His 906 series starts rank second to Richard Petty’s 1,185.

During his 32-year Cup Series career, Rudd posted 23 wins, including the 1997 Brickyard 400. Rudd, the 1977 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, earned a best points finish of second in 1991. He scored at least one win in 16 consecutive seasons (1983-98), which is tied for the third-longest streak in Cup Series history. Rudd was named one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers in 2023.

Moody, elected as a Pioneer candidate, won five NASCAR Cup Series races from 1956-57. He then paired with business-minded John Holman to form Holman-Moody Racing in 1957, forming the foundation of a powerhouse NASCAR team during 1957-73, winning consecutive championships with David Pearson (1968-69) and taking the checkered flag with Mario Andretti at the 1967 Daytona 500. The Holman-Moody partnership earned 96 wins and 83 poles in 525 premier starts.

In addition, Dr. Dean Sicking received the Hall of Fame’s Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Sicking is best known as an inventor of the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier, an advancement that has saved countless lives over the past 20 years.

After the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, NASCAR partnered with Sicking and the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to better understand the circumstances and help prevent future tragedies — a partnership that remains in place today. In addition to designing the SAFER barrier, Sicking studied each track’s incident history and helped implement a plan to cover the most dangerous areas immediately.

Currently, all NASCAR national series race tracks feature SAFER barriers.