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Spot News Writing
Fifth Place
Kelly Crandall, Racer.com

Edwards Steps Away From Racing

With the words, “I’m stepping away from full-time driving in the Cup Series,” Carl Edwards provided one of the biggest shocks to NASCAR in recent years Wednesday morning.

At 37, Edwards walks away from a Cup career that began in the fall of 2004. Now 445 starts later, Edwards leaves with 28 victories and six top-five points finishes on his résumé.

But while he’s ready to take the time to explore the interests he has outside of racing, Edwards did not use the word retire during the nearly 40 minutes he spoke to the media at Joe Gibbs Racing’s headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“If I'm going to get back in a racecar, I'm calling Coach [Joe] Gibbs first,” Edwards said about the possibility of racing again. “There is no better race team. There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry. There's no better engine. There's no better crew chief than Dave Rogers. There's no better crew. And I'm going to race here.”

It just will not be in 2017.

After nearly two decades of thinking about racing all day, every day – including, he said, in his dreams – Edwards is ready to devote his attention elsewhere. Laying it all out, he offered three reasons as to why the decision came when it did – nearly a month before cars hit the track at Daytona International Speedway for The Clash.

First, he cited personal satisfaction with his career. Of his 28 Cup wins, Edwards has been victorious in the all-star race, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500. He’s also a winner in the Camping World Truck Series and the 2007 Xfinity Series champion.

“I don't race just for the trophies,” Edwards said. “This has been a neat journey for me, and it's always been something that I've been rewarded by the challenges. It's scary in so many ways to go racing. I mean, initially, first time I stepped on the throttle of my dad's race car, I mean, 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.

“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."

The second reason Edwards pointed to was the toll a long NASCAR season takes on a driver and those closest to him. After pouring everything he has into racing, he wants to take that time and devote it to the people and things important to him, such as his wife Kate and two children, Anne and Michael.

Edwards said he’s received “the most support ever” from those at home.

“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,” Edwards said. “Things I'm really passionate about.”

Lastly, Edwards emphasized he is conscious of his health. Standing on stage, Edwards made it clear that he has no health issues forcing him out of the car, but he is aware of the dangers the sport presents, and he can walk away knowing he has a long life ahead.

“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.”

Calling this day a personal decision and one where he followed his gut, Edwards seemed to firmly shut the door on the rumors he will return to the series with a different team or manufacturer. Or that money was a reason. Right now, Edwards has no desire to drive a racecar and be full-time on the circuit.

JGR moved quickly to name Edwards' replacement, tapping 2016 Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez as the new driver of the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota. Suarez will make his Cup debut in the 59th annual Daytona 500.

Team owner Joe Gibbs called Suarez the “obvious choice,” while admitting how taken aback he was at Edwards’ decision.

“I was all set for the holidays and a little R&R and hang around the house and everything,” Gibbs said. “I was in a meeting, and they said, ‘Hey, Carl stopped by,’ and I figured it was going be, have a Merry Christmas and everything. When he sat down in front of me and shared what he was thinking, I was totally surprised, and the first thing I did was say, ‘Look, this is a huge decision here. Let’s give it some time and think about this.’”

When the two came back together, Gibbs could tell Edwards was committed to his decision. Gibbs hopes to keep Edwards involved with the organization, calling him a part of the family.

As for what Edwards now does with his life in the immediate future, he’s looking forward to taking the time to figure that out.

“I don't really have that all figured out yet, and to me that's okay,” Edwards said. “I'm at peace with that. I know if I lay out those three reasons that I listed, if you put those together, you add them up, it adds up to this. This is the right thing.

“Life is short. You've got to do what your gut tells you, and I have a feeling I'll find something. If I don't make Coach [Gibbs] too mad, if I don't, maybe he'll have me back.”

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France released a statement saying Edwards has made "an indelible mark on NASCAR."

"His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport. 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.”