For almost seven years, Carl Edwards has been somewhat of a specter in NASCAR lore.
After the conclusion of the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series season, Edwards made the shocking announcement that he would retire from racing immediately. The news of the 2007 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion suddenly and unexplainably leaving left numerous question marks on its own.
What followed from the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s departure, however, was perhaps even more mysterious – absolute silence.
For seven years, Edwards, who has no presence on social media whatsoever, made almost no appearances near a racetrack or at any NASCAR event and was featured on very few pieces of racing media.
When NASCAR announced the 45-year-old was to be a part of its 75 Greatest Drivers List earlier this year, Edwards attended the honoring ceremony at Darlington Raceway in May and even made an appearance in the broadcast booth for a stage of that weekend’s Cup Series race.
Instead of isolating himself again, however, Edwards appeared again this past weekend at Nashville Superspeedway where the track announced its plans to honor its six-time winner as the first driver to be inducted for its forthcoming legends plaza.
While there, Frontstretch had a few minutes to catch up with the former racer and ask him some questions.
Dalton Hopkins, Frontstretch.com: It was a while since we’ve seen you… But we saw you at Darlington in part of the 75 Greatest Drivers List and now in Nashville. Why suddenly do we see you at racetracks again?
Carl Edwards: Well, a couple of reasons. First, to have these honors is really special to me and for NASCAR to include me in that list of 75 drivers, that was really special. Lisa Kennedy called me, and I thought, ‘Man, I love Darlington,’ right? So, I thought, ‘This will be just a lot of fun,’ and I’m so glad I went. I got to be up in the booth with Clint [Bowyer] and the guys. That was really fun. And then the Nashville Superspeedway, [track president] Greg Hoffman called me and said, ‘Man, we’re doing something special. Would you be a part of it?’ and it is special to me, so that’s why I’m here. It’s an honor, and it’s been really great.
Hopkins: Back in your day, you had a fair share of controversies, but one driver that is in the headlines more than anybody else nowadays is Ross Chastain. So, what kind of advice would you offer him? What do you think about his driving style? And if you were his mentor, what would you say to him?
Edwards: Boy, that’s a great question. I haven’t watched closely enough, so I would be giving advice not based on all the information, but the bottom line is that these racecar drivers are all out there – racing. I mean it is a zero-sum game. They want to get everything they can, and it is going to be at the expense of someone else.
Wherever you draw that line, however aggressive you want to be, that’s really up to you.
There are consequences. I mean, I’ve stepped way over the line a number of times, and you just have to deal with that. But at the end of the day, to me as a fan now – if I were a car owner, I want a guy like Ross Chastain. A guy that goes hard. You can slow people down. You can talk to them, but it’s hard to speak somebody up. It’s just part of the sport.
Hopkins: When you were last here, we were going to… the same types of tracks every year. But now we have a dirt race, we have a street course next week, we have a million road courses. What do you think is the biggest change NASCAR has made, and what do you think is the most exciting?
Edwards: I think it’s just what you said. It’s just changes. The biggest change is that NASCAR is willing it appears to do all sorts of new things, and they’re exciting. I mean, a race on dirt. The Chicago street course. That’s going to be insane. I mean I can’t wait to watch that. All these road courses are fun. It’s just, NASCAR is not afraid to do things, and I think you can feel that energy [of] new people excited about the sport, more excitement than I’ve seen in the last six or seven years from just fans. Being outside of it, people are more excited now than ever.
Hopkins: Back then you were racing against guys like Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. All three of them are now car owners… and one of them is even retired. So, is it weird for you to see those guys take on that kind of role?
Edwards: It’s not weird. I think it’s a natural progression, but out there a minute ago, they used my name and the word ‘legend.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s one step from pioneer,’ which I called Jeff Gordon, a pioneer of the sport, one time. He’s like, ‘Don’t call me that. That makes me sound old,’
But those guys giving back to the sport, that’s what it takes, and good for them. I haven’t done anything like that. My hats off to them taking all that responsibility, giving opportunities to people making the sport work. That’s what it’s about.
Hopkins: Steve Phelps is now the president of NASCAR since you were away… Have you met him yet?
Edwards: So, I know Steve well from back in the day, but not in his current capacity. We haven’t talked about anything. What are you thinking? Why are you asking?
Hopkins: I was wondering what do you think of him as a character? As a leader? What do you think about the stuff that he has done for the sport?
Edwards: Yeah, I just don’t know enough about him in that role. I do know Ben Kennedy well. I have a lot of faith in Ben. His mother Lisa is one of my mentors in life. At the root of it, I’ve been involved with so many different things with NASCAR – stuff that I didn’t agree with at all and stuff that’s been the greatest thing in my life – but the common thread all the way through, is NASCAR wants this sport to be great. They want the fans to enjoy it. That’s what everybody’s out for.
That was lost on me at some point, and there’s some things I’m still mad about, but at the end of the day, we’re all in the same direction and Steve, Ben, all those guys, they’re all doing it.
Hopkins: Can you still do a backflip?
Edwards: Man, I don’t know. I’m going to go home, and I got to actually see if I can still do it. The diving board? No problem. I have no clue about the car.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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