The roar of racing engines reverberated off empty grandstands Wednesday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as stock cars painted primer gray lapped the 1.5-mile oval north of town. This was the annual NASCAR Goodyear tire test — a harbinger of the spring that is to come, and a not so subtle reminder that NASCAR Weekend will be here before you know it.
Normally, this is big news in the Carolinas and Alabama and other necks of NASCAR woods, such as the South Boston in Virginia, where the Burton brothers (Jeff and Ward) are from.
But this also was the day Carl Edwards announced his retirement. Which came out of the Petty blue. Which meant that people in NASCAR locales weren’t that interested in how the new Camry was handling on a windy day in the desert.
Carl Edwards wasn’t the most famous NASCAR driver — he is from Missouri, after all — but he was a darn good one. He won 28 races in 13 years, including the 2008 and 2011 Cup Series speedfests at LVMS, which he punctuated with backflips at the start-finish line. Fans loved it when Carl Edwards did those backflips, either inside or outside the car.
He never won the championship, but he finished second twice.
In a sport in which winning a race has been compared to winning a tournament on the PGA Tour, Edwards’ 28 Gatorade sprayers would put him in company with Gene Littler and Lee Trevino, who won 29 titles each on the links, and Johnny Miller, who won 25. Not a shabby foursome.
Edwards is 37, which in NASCAR years is more like 27. In stock car racing, men often trade paint into their 50s. In citing the timing, one NASCAR executive said this was akin to Barry Sanders retiring from football when he was 31. Sounds about right.
After the roar of engines was silenced for lunch, one of Edwards’ teammates in the Joe Gibbs Racing stable came into the media center for a chat. Matt Kenseth had his cap pulled down low and was sporting an aerodynamic beard that shouldn’t add too much drag in the corners.
Gentlemen, start your Carl Edwards questions.
“Yeah, I was surprised as anybody,” the three-time Las Vegas race winner said. “But the more I think about it, the less surprised I am, knowing some of the conversations that we’ve had in the past.”
Kenseth called Edwards a great teammate and a great competitor. “I think NASCAR is gonna miss him a lot. You hate to see him go. On the other hand, it’s what he wants to do, and I applaud him for doing it.”
Leaving the door ajar for at least a part-time return if it might move him, Edwards said his decision was threefold: He is happy with what he has accomplished on the track; he wants to spend more time with loved ones away from it; he is healthy, and he doesn’t much care for those glasses with the bold rims doctors made Dale Earnhardt Jr. wear after he sustained his latest concussion.
Edwards also suggested he might get into politics. Perhaps he failed to stick the landing on one or two of those backflips.
“I think Carl is making the right decision for him, for whatever reasons those are,” said 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano when it was his turn to do the media scrum. “He’s a smart guy; he’s a great racer — a fair, hard racer as well, who I’ve enjoyed racing with my whole Cup career.”
Logano said he has long admired Edwards for how he handles situations on and off the track, and one need only look back as far as the 2016 season finale at Homestead, Florida, for a quintessential example. Edwards blocked Logano as the two were racing for the series championship with 10 laps to go, causing a crash that paved Jimmie Johnson’s path to win another one.
It was one of “them racin’ deals,” as they say in the TV booth. But on his way to the motor home to contemplate the glory that might have been his, Edwards stopped by Joey Logano’s pit box to say it was totally his fault.
He might have said he never saw Joey coming, which is what people in the Carolinas and Alabama and the other NASCAR locales said when Carl Edwards called it quits Wednesday, as the roar of racing engines reverberated off empty grandstands at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.