Toyota drivers were shocked by Carl Edwards' departure
Turns out that race fans weren’t the only one surprised by Carl Edwards’ decision not to race in 2017. His Toyota teammates were stunned, too.
On Jan. 10, FOXSports.com broke the news that Edwards was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing and would not compete in NASCAR this year. Instead, his seat in the No. 19 JGR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota will be filled by rookie Daniel Suarez.
The news of Edwards’ departure after 12 ½ seasons of full-time Cup racing shocked the racing community.
And during Tuesday’s NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, several of Edwards’ fellow Toyota drivers said they, too, were caught off guard.
“I was as surprised as anybody else,” said Matt Kenseth, who said he found out Edwards was stepping away on a conference call on the night of Jan. 8 with team owner Joe Gibbs and the other JGR drivers.
“I knew it was bad news,” said Kenseth. “This is my fifth year there and this is the first time we ever had a conference call with all the drivers and crew chief and it was on Sunday night after all the football games were over or whatever.”
After the initial shock, Kenseth’s reaction changed. “That was the first time I heard about it and I was very, very surprised,” he said. “The more I think about it, probably not. … It doesn’t really totally surprise me, but I definitely didn’t see it coming.”
Kyle Busch echoed similar sentiments. “It was certainly, I think, a shock to the entire industry, but also to us as a team at Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Premier Series champion. “It was a shock to me. It was something I didn’t expect to see happen.”
Busch supported Edwards.
“It’s his own decision to make,” Busch said of Edwards. “And you’ve got to give it to a guy when he says he’s had enough and he’s done and he walks away. And if that continues to hold true, more power to him.”
Martin Truex Jr., who drives a Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, was caught off-guard, too.
“I didn’t see it coming,” said Truex. “I always thought Carl would be like Mark Martin and race until he was 50 or so. I definitely was surprised by it.”
This year, Truex will have a teammate for the first time in rookie Erik Jones.
Count Jones among those who expected Edwards to keep racing.
“We were all surprised as anybody, all of the drivers,” said Jones. “We didn’t hear until Sunday night (Jan. 8). And I remember, when I was first told, they were explaining, that, ‘Yeah, Carl’s going to retire.’ And I’m, like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is his last year, OK, that’s cool.’
“And they’re like, ‘No, no. He’s retiring now. He’s retiring Wednesday.’”
How the departure of Edwards affects the performance of JGR and Furniture Row, the two affiliated Toyota teams, remains to be seen.
“It’s definitely going to change the dynamic, taking away one veteran guy that’s been around a long time and had a lot of success and really had a lot to bring to the group and to the discussions that we had when we talked about competition and cars and how to go fast and those things,” said Truex.
Truex said he thinks that even with Edwards’ departure, the Toyota contingent should remain strong in 2017.
“We’ve got a lot of talent still in that group and hopefully we can pull together and make it happen again.”