Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Will Kasey Kahne or Carl Edwards Return to NASCAR Racing First?

This weekend’s broadcast of the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway had a number of throwback guests in the broadcast booth.

Richard and Kyle Petty started things off, while Carl Edwards joined the team for the second segment. Edwards had not been part of a team, following his abrupt departure at the end of the 2016 season, save for an appearance in early 2017 to help Daniel Suarez acclimate to his former No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

With Ryan Newman returning to competition for the first time in two seasons this past weekend, it got us thinking: Who else from the 2000s-era might make it back to the track?

Kasey Kahne immediately came to mind, as like Edwards, he made comments this weekend alluding to his future interest in racing again. This week, Stephen Stumpf and Luken Glover do a deep dive on two of NASCAR’s iconic names of the mid-2000s.

Rested and Ready: Kasey Kahne’s Passion for Racing Hasn’t Waned

While Edwards voluntarily stepped away from NASCAR after the 2016 season, it’s important to remember that Kahne didn’t necessarily have a choice: he was forced to.

Kahne’s last Cup Series start came at the 2018 Southern 500 for Leavine Family Racing. He had dealt with heat exhaustion and poor health during his last few years in the Cup Series, and his poor health reached a breaking point after his final race.

Kahne stepped out of the car for the 2018 Brickyard 400 in order to focus on his health, and the temporary absence ultimately turned into a permanent one.

A lot has changed in five years, however. Kahne, now 43, is in much better health. And when asked about the potential of returning to stock cars during pre-race Sunday (May 14) at Darlington, Kahne expressed a great interest in making a return.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Kahne said. “My health was struggling pretty bad there. [Darlington] was my final race in 2018, and it was as bad as I’ve ever felt. 

“Done a lot since then, I think my body is in a lot better place now, I needed a rest. But yeah, I’ve thought about [NASCAR], I think it would be great to run a stock car again, I really do.”

Even in 2020, Kahne was open about how much he missed NASCAR and racing as a whole.

“I would have to think about [being offered a ride], you know, it’s been a little while, but I definitely enjoy that stuff, and I miss it,” Kahne said. “I watch every race on TV, I go to a lot of the sprint car races with Brad Sweet and James McFadden, their teams. 

“I stay pretty close to it; I just haven’t done it myself. Yeah, like I said, the longer I’m away, the more I want to get back in the car.”

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What’s also important is that while Kahne has been out of NASCAR for five years, he has not been out of racing. After taking a brief break to improve his health, Kahne began competing for his aforementioned World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series team, Kasey Kahne Racing.

A part-time schedule in 2021 turned into a full-time 2022 campaign for Kahne, and he is running full-time once again in 2023. On the ownership side, Kahne has four straight WoO Sprint Car championships since 2019 with Sweet.

Kahne is back racing, and his health has dramatically improved. If he’s offered a race in NASCAR, he’d be able to do it.

While Edwards’ sudden return at Darlington was a pleasant surprise, he has — by his own admission — focused primarily on farming since retirement (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that). But when it comes to a return to racing and NASCAR, Edwards has a way to go in getting reacquainted; Kahne is already one step ahead. – Stephen Stumpf

Here Comes Cousin Carl

Ever since that fateful January 2017 when Edwards shocked the NASCAR world with his retirement announcement, people have speculated why.

Was it the satisfaction of a career, time consumption of racing, and health risks that Edwards cited in his retirement press conference? Was there an injury sustained in a hard crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2016 that gave us the last image of Edwards on the track?

Or was it heartbreak from coming short yet again of his first Cup title?

Only Edwards can answer that and rightfully so. He had a tremendous career, made a lot of fans, and will most likely be a Hall of Famer who was also recently added to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list. 

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Naturally, fans and even industry members quickly transitioned from “why” to “will he return” over the course of the last six years. Now, there may be more signs of a potential return than ever. 

After dropping from the face of the earth abruptly, Edwards has been making more appearances over the past month. Back in April, he joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to discuss being named to the 75 Greatest Drivers list and sparked some curiosity in the process.

Edwards expressed interest at visiting Trackhouse Racing Team’s shop. While he shut down the notion of driving for Trackhouse, that was the first notch.

This past weekend at Darlington Raceway, Edwards appeared with several other drivers to celebrate NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary and the 75 Greatest Drivers list. In the process, he appeared in the FOX Sports booth for stage two, and he did not skip a beat.

When asked by former racing peer and current FOX Sports commentator Clint Bowyer about a potential return during the broadcast, Edwards said this: “It was easy to not race when I first stepped away, but it’s getting harder and harder. I like sliding stuff around and driving cars. So there’ll be a time when I go do something. Maybe sim work or something like that.”

“I love racing cars. I love driving cars, but I want to do it at 100%. For me to step away from the sport when I did, I got to go do the things that I wanted to do at 100%, and if I ever come back, I want to be able to give it all I got.”

This isn’t the first time Edwards has expressed interest in a return, even if he did it in a one-off appearance. Back in 2021, Edwards joined NASCAR Race Hub and left the door open.

“Towards the end of my career, I really enjoyed the road courses. So if I were gonna do something, it would probably be on a road course or if NASCAR, by chance, changed the package to where there was no downforce and about a thousand horsepower, I could probably get pretty interested in that too.”

There is also his brief appearance on the NBC Sports broadcast at Texas Motor Speedway in 2018.

When a driver has an itch to race, that typically does not go away over time – it grows. Edwards doing simulator racing certainly doesn’t dismiss any suspicion.

In recent years, drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and the most recent example of Ryan Newman have returned, while drivers like Kahne have that desire. That same hint from Edwards matched with the sim work, his conversations with Justin Marks and the booth appearance point more towards yes than no. 

Trackhouse’s Project91 car is supposed to be for international drivers in other disciplines, but a chance to put Edwards in a car if he wishes to would likely not phase Marks.

In his retirement press conference, Edwards said if he got in a car again, it would be for Joe Gibbs. Perhaps that opens a door in JGR’s “All-Star” No. 19 car — which coincidentally happens to be his former seat.

Overall, I think it is more likely that Kahne returns first given that he has continued to race. He makes his SRX debut this summer.

But the signs are there of an Edwards return, and there are certainly opportunities. Just imagine the NASCAR Twitter world if that happens. – Luken Glover

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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janice

neither….i think they are both happy in their respective post-nascar cup series’ lives.

one weekend at a track around the old gang does not make a desire to return to the craziness of 36 weeks on the road.

Bill B

The most likely outcome of either returning full-time to the Cup Series would just be to increase their career average finishing position. The chances of either of them getting back to the level of their prime would be almost zero.

Shayne

Kasey and Carl were around when BZF was higher than a kite. Remember Dr. Black and the witch hunt drug testing fiasco?

I don’t know why they’d return unless they’re broke, desperate, and somehow got into BZF’s personal stash.

DoninAjax

WHY would they? They left for their own reasons.

wildcats2016

Why would the come back? Listening to Edwards in the booth at Darlington, he’s happy with his life as it is. He achieved what he wanted and retired. Good for him. Kasey Khane would be more likely but I doubt it.

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