On Wednesday, Carl Edwards unexpectedly announced he will not compete full-time in NASCAR anymore, choosing to exit the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota immediately. Below, FOX NASCAR analysts Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond offer their perspectives on the surprising development.
FOX SPORTS: What was your reaction to Carl Edwards’ announcement?
Waltrip: “This is beyond shocking. I’d go so far as to say it is catastrophic when a driver who just competed for the championship with a dominant organization suddenly doesn’t return the next season. A month before NASCAR’s Super Bowl, its biggest race of the year, and a driver leaves — that has to have an incredible impact on the team and sponsor. All the reasons he listed for stepping out of the car must be incredibly important to him to make a decision like this.”
McReynolds: “It would be easy for me to say he shouldn’t leave the team so suddenly, but Carl is the only one who really knows why. If I raised an eyebrow about anything, it’s the fact he did so roughly one month from the start of the season. What if Peyton Manning had waited until June or July of 2016 to announce his retirement? But we tend to forget Carl is 37 years old, and while that’s not old, today’s world of race car drivers is changing. They start their careers much earlier, and the demands on them are much greater than they were 10 or 20 years ago. He has accomplished a lot and had a terrific career.”
Hammond: “I was completely stunned. Carl is a fierce competitor who is devoted to NASCAR, to winning races and eventually to winning a Cup Series championship. He had been close several times, and I always thought that each time he fell just short, he came back a bigger threat the next year. You can rest assured he didn’t take this decision lightly, and he has to be extremely passionate about his reasons behind it.”
FOX SPORTS: Can you recall a similarly shocking departure by a high-profile driver or athlete?
Waltrip: “I think back to Nico Rosberg winning the Formula One championship and immediately retiring. That made sense since he had just won the title and was on top of the world. Other than that, I’ve never seen anyone leave right before the season started, barring a major injury or illness. You just don’t see this happen out of the blue.”
FOX SPORTS: What effect will Edwards’ sudden departure and the insertion of Daniel Suarez into his car have on Joe Gibbs Racing?
Waltrip: “Because Daniel was already within the JGR organization and is well-liked, I don’t expect many problems with him stepping into Carl’s car. It should be a fairly smooth transition. When anyone retires, there are drivers waiting in line, helmet in hand, to take their spot. I don’t know if Suarez was quite ready to jump in the deep end of the pool, but he’s jumping in with a great team. It’s also helpful he is so close to the sponsor. I’m sure he is more than acceptable to Arris, which makes this a little more palatable for them.”
McReynolds: “With the driver depth at JGR, I’d be shocked if they miss a beat. There couldn’t have been a more perfect storm for JGR to lose a driver than with this sponsorship and Daniel Suarez. The Arris sponsorship really came with him and likely was in the works to be a part of his Cup career down the road. In any other situation, if a driver announced they were leaving one month before the season, the fallout probably would be much worse.”
FOX SPORTS: If this is truly the end of his career, what will Edwards’ legacy be?
McReynolds: “Our sport will truly miss him. He was a great spokesperson with a unique personality. We will miss the backflips and him going up into the grandstands after a win. He was a hard-core, championship-caliber racer. Carl set a precedent for a lot of other drivers in how he conducts himself with the media and fans. He takes his sunglasses off so fans can see his eyes during an interview, no matter how blinding the sun is. The sport will miss him for so many reasons.”
Waltrip: “Edwards will be remembered as a guy who came in with nothing and no one knew in the beginning. He started by handing out business cards at the track and got a great opportunity he was able to capitalize on. He fought for a couple of championships, won a lot of races and was well-liked. When young drivers ask me for advice, I tell them to watch Carl because the way he conducts himself with the media is an example every driver should aspire to. Carl Edwards was the total package.”
FOX SPORTS: With Tony Stewart retiring at the conclusion of 2016 and Edwards’ news, coupled with Jeff Gordon’s retirement a year ago, what will the ripple effect in the sport be?
McReynolds: “We’ve lost a lot of veteran drivers the past year, and Greg Biffle also may not be back. But I’m not concerned with leadership in the sport. There are several big voices left, and not all of them are even elder statesmen. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are great leaders. People also listen to Kevin Harvick, and of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards will be missed behind the wheel, but I am confident in the remaining driver leadership.”
FOX SPORTS: If he never races again, will Carl Edwards be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day?
Waltrip: “Sure, he certainly will be in the Hall one day. He has won Cup races and had an impact on the sport, so he has all the credentials to qualify.”