In a stunning move, NASCAR star Carl Edwards is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to pursue other interests outside of driving and will not compete in 2017, FOXSports.com has learned from multiple sources.
On Wednesday, JGR will announce at a press conference that Daniel Suarez will replace Edwards as the driver of the team’s No. 19 Monster Energy Cup Series Toyota. Suarez is the reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion.
Representatives of Edwards and Joe Gibbs Racing declined comment.
David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A., also declined comment on Edwards’ departure.
Edwards, 37, broke into NASCAR’s top series in 2004, when he replaced Jeff Burton in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. The Missouri native stayed with the Roush organization until 2015, when he moved to JGR.
For his career, Edwards has 28 race victories, 22 poles, 124 top fives and 220 top 10s in 445 starts.
Edwards might be the best driver of this generation to never win a NASCAR Premier Series championship. In 2011, he and Tony Stewart tied for the championship, but Stewart won on a tiebreaker for most race victories that season.
In 2008, Edwards won nine races and appeared poised to win the title, but a late-race crash at Talladega Superspeedway ended his title hopes, as he finished second to Jimmie Johnson.
At Homestead-Miami Speedway this past November, Edwards was in contention to win both the final race of the season and the championship, but crashed after contact with Joey Logano on a restart with 10 laps to go. Edwards ended the year fourth in points, his sixth top-five points finish in just 12 full seasons of racing.
The news of Edwards stepping away is a huge surprise for most fans, but in some ways it isn’t.
Throughout his career, Edwards has been very private about his personal life. Although he is outgoing, personable and popular with his sponsors, Edwards is one of the few drivers who isn’t active on Twitter and in general keeps a very low profile on social media.
|Is Carl Edwards crashing out of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20 really his final act as NASCAR Cup driver? Chris Trotman/Getty Images|
Always-guarded Carl Edwards' retirement a stunning turn
When rumors flew a couple of weeks ago about a driver retiring, Carl Edwards didn't come to mind. Maybe Danica Patrick was ready to hang it up. Maybe Jamie McMurray had enough.
But Edwards? The driver who has finished second in the standings two times and could taste a title twice only to have it slip through his hands?
Granted, it had appeared in December that he had not moved on from losing the championship in devastating fashion at Homestead-Miami Speedway a few weeks earlier. But he also talked about how winning a title after another disappointment would make a championship that much more meaningful. He appeared to have the motivation to continue.
Joe Gibbs Racing will have a news conference Wednesday, giving 37-year-old Edwards an opportunity to explain why he won't buckle up for the team in 2017. For a driver who likes things neat and tidy, he most likely won't say whether anything the team or NASCAR did sparked this decision.
Edwards showed no sign of injury after the accident, yet he is stepping away from the sport. Certainly any team would want him if he ever decides to return, but come February, his absence will have fans wondering what might have been and will be a blow to NASCAR that already has seen one superstar (Tony Stewart) retire after 2016.
The timing of the decision certainly leads to speculation of a variety of reasons Edwards could want to stop racing. Maybe Edwards was just mentally spent after another near miss at the championship. Maybe the Joe Gibbs Racing driving corps isn't as tight as it's portrayed. Maybe he really is a Ford guy who has a plan in the back of his mind to return to that stable in the future. Maybe he has another job lined up -- in television? -- and now was the time to leave JGR.
Edwards has always been hard to read, from what he was thinking in his battles with Brad Keselowski to his decisions to first remain at Roush Fenway and Ford in the name of loyalty then to finally leave for JGR amid the Roush decline.
He likes his business to be handled neatly, and he believes any friction should be handled privately, leading to criticism that he wasn't as genuine as other drivers. But that also has given him the persona as the ultimate professional publicly, and that is what has attracted fans and has allowed him to be a favorite of talk show hosts looking for a driver who can relate to fans and nonfans alike.
This timing certainly isn't tidy. It appears at least somewhat selfish, and it has created a scramble for JGR.
It would be hard to argue with Edwards, though. If his heart isn't in it or he doesn't want to race, he should sit out. The pragmatic driver doesn't spend money wildly, apparently living modestly and with his only major expense being his airplane.
He likely has enough money that he can retire and never work again in his life. He can remain in Missouri, out of a spotlight that in some ways he has shunned.
He doesn't do social media. His family doesn't make appearances with him. He can truly "spend more time with the family" if that is what this decision was about.
What more does Edwards have to accomplish? He never won a Cup title and never won a Daytona 500, but he has 28 career Cup wins. And let's face it, these days, winning a Daytona 500 or a championship is as much about talent as it is about capitalizing on certain moments. Certainly they are huge triumphs and in many ways the ultimate in racing, but Edwards will be able to sleep at night knowing he was one of the sport's greats for more than a decade.
He can step away now and still have his health. He doesn't have to spend energy trying to navigate the politics while also racing.
Although his departure will have an immediate impact on JGR, it actually could alleviate a logjam of drivers vying for the four Cup spots. Daniel Suarez, who appears at least nominally ready for a Cup ride after winning the Xfinity Series title in 2016, is expected to step into the No. 19 car in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Erik Jones has been farmed out to Furniture Row Racing, and he is expected to return to JGR for 2018 or 2019. The question was, if he came back, who would be out?
Denny Hamlin, according to a source, has signed a contract extension. Kyle Busch is not ready to retire. That leaves Matt Kenseth, who indicated the contract extension he signed that went into effect this year was for multiple seasons.
Now Suarez, who helped bring the Arris sponsorship to JGR, makes the jump, albeit a year or two early, into the JGR Cup program. If Edwards hadn't left, it is likely JGR would have needed to find a new sponsor for Edwards when Arris wanted to go Cup racing with Suarez.
Now Jones can come over whenever Kenseth hangs it up, allowing JGR and Toyota to keep two drivers (Jones and Suarez) they desperately wanted to keep.
Suarez won't be as good as Edwards right from the start, but JGR still has three legitimate championship contenders. That is enough, and Suarez replacing Edwards might even create a better team dynamic with them not all battling for the title.
Edwards? He'll be missed by his fans. And whatever he says Wednesday, fans likely will continue wondering exactly why he did it.
Just like pretty much everything he has done in his racing career.
Carl Edwards leaving Joe Gibbs Racing, will not compete in 2017
Carl Edwards will leave Joe Gibbs Racing and not compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to NBC Sports but requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Daniel Suarez will be announced as Edwards’ replacement at a 10 a.m. press conference Wednesday at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Edwards, 37, completed his 12th full-time Cup season last year, placing fourth in the standings after a late-race wreck in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Edwards earned his spot in the championship finale by winning at Texas two weeks before the season finale.
Edwards’ title hopes ended when he went to block Joey Logano‘s move on a restart with 10 laps to go. Edwards hit the wall hard and his race was finished. He walked down pit road and went to Logano’s pit box to shake hands with Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, and offer his best luck.
“This is life,” Edwards told NBC after the accident. “We did our best. I just risked too much.”
Edwards has 28 career series wins and 220 top 10s in 445 career starts. He finished second in the championship twice, most notably in 2011 when he lost the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker. Edwards won the 2007 Xfinity title.
Edwards has competed in NASCAR’s top series since 2004 when he moved up to Roush Fenway Racing’s Cup program with 13 races left in the season. He finished 10th in his Cup debut Aug. 22, 2004, at Michigan International Speedway.
Suarez, who celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday, won the Xfinity championship this past season for Joe Gibbs Racing. Suarez scored three wins in his second full season in the series. He was scheduled to have competed in the series again this year until Edwards’ decision to not drive this season.
A few days before the season finale at Homestead, Suarez described Edwards and Kyle Busch as his “mentors.
“They are very good friends of mine,” Suarez said.
For crew chief Dave Rogers, this will be his fourth different driver in the last four years. He served as Kyle Busch’s crew chief in 2014, moved to Denny Hamlin‘s team in 2015, then went to Carl Edwards’ team in 2016 and will now have Suarez this season.