Carl Edwards became emotional once during his press conference Wednesday to explain why he’s stepping away from the Cup Series in 2017.
The moment came when the Missouri native was told of the way NBC Sports described his midwestern sensibilities and upbringing. Edwards, perhaps the most private driver in the Cup Series, fought back tears and turned his head away briefly from those assembled in attendance.
“I just want to be a good person,” he said.
It’s a phrase we can all live by. And it’s also one that Edwards has clearly tried to abide by for his teams and sponsors since his entrance into the Cup Series in 2004.
The 28-time winner has been constantly careful of the image he represents for his brands and teams. Any press conference about Edwards and his lifestyle almost always included a reference to longtime sponsor Subway.
Edwards always gave considered, if not not terribly revealing, answers to questions. He was the one driver who always took his sunglasses off for a TV interview before or during practice and qualifying.
Yeah, he hasn’t been perfect. The feud with Brad Keselowski wasn’t exactly a corporate and image-friendly event. But the two have patched things up and Keselowski has said he’s become friends with Edwards.
As part of being a good person, it’s clear that Edwards doesn’t want his life to be solely about racing. This sport can be all-encompassing as drivers and teams criss-cross the country 38 of 52 weekends of the year. Edwards said it was like living a dream.
But all dreams end. And Edwards, whose contract with Gibbs was up at the end of 2017, figured now was the time to wake up and pursue other interests because he’s healthy and satisfied with his career. You can’t fault someone for wanting to live a well-rounded life. Racing may be everything to some people, but it isn’t everything to everyone.
“In my mind I considered next year being my final year, but I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into it. And after Homestead, I had some time to sit and think and reflect on all this. And for those three reasons that I gave you, I thought ‘Man, I can’t come up with a good reason why now isn’t a good time.'”
Edwards also noted the attention paid to what Dale Earnhardt Jr. went through after suffering another concussion over the summer. Junior’s severe symptoms caused him to miss the second half of the 2016 season.
Edwards, a workout fiend who has posed shirtless on the cover of magazines, has always been publicly aware about his health. As more and more is known about what severe head trauma can do to a person’s brain as he or she ages, it’s not terribly surprising that the fitfreak husband of a doctor would be overtly worried about the next 30 years.
That’s not to say that Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to return to racing is wrong in the slightest. Earnhardt Jr. clearly put a lot of thought into his decision to return for 2017 and believes he’s trained himself better than ever to help prevent another concussion from happening. Two people can look at the same situation and come to differing conclusions.
“I believe people have the right to choose what’s best and I think it took a lot for [Junior] to do that and I have a lot of admiration for him,” Edwards said.
Edwards’ dream is ending on a relatively sour note. The final image of Edwards’ career — for now, anyway — will be his crumpled No. 19 Toyota up against the wall at Homestead-Miami Speedway after a late-race crash while racing for the championship.
“Let me tell you about Homestead. With 40 laps to go, 30 laps to go, 20 laps to go … that’s what I live for. That is it. That is racing for me. [Crew chief Dave Rogers] and I had worked all year to be in that moment. To pass, to battle with Jimmie [Johnson] and be able to pass Joey [Logano] and Kyle [Busch] for the ultimate prize. Driving just as hard as I could and to be in that position and to know that day we were getting it done. That literally, that’s what I live for. That part of Homestead, for me, personally. I won. That’s what it’s about.
“The outcome, obviously, I wasn’t happy about. And that’s frustrating and everything, but I feel really good about it.”
But it became clear Wednesday that moment, along with his tie for the title with Tony Stewart in 2011, is not what Edwards wants his life to be defined. At 37, he has plenty of time to make a mark out of racing. Heck, it could even include politics.
“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,” Edwards said.
Heck, Edwards hasn’t prepared for anything specific after NASCAR. There’s nothing concrete on the horizon, other than not heading to Daytona for the Daytona 500 in February.
“Life’s short, you’ve got to do what your gut tells you,” Edwards said. “I have a feeling I’ll find something.”
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