The most elusive ex-driver in modern NASCAR history, Carl Edwards hasn’t made time for the public spotlight in recent years because he was busy sailing across the ocean.
“We did two trips and it was a motorboat,” Edwards said during a weekend appearance on FOX Sports’ NASCAR Race Hub. “First, I was way out of my league. They nicknamed me ‘Buckets’ after the first two days. All I did was throw up in a bucket.
“Then, we put together a second trip to go from the East coast all the way to Italy. I was the captain on that trip. It was the adventure of a lifetime.
“We swam with whales out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I fixed a cooling problem on the engine, for about a week somewhere. I don’t know where we were, an island in the Mediterranean. That really happened and it was crazy.”
Edwards has remained the subject of immense fascination and scrutiny ever since his shock retirement after the 2016 NASCAR season. He came within a restart of winning the Cup Series championship and hastily announced his retirement two months later.
It was a decision that team owner Joe Gibbs said he never really understood nor was it made particularly clear when Edwards told him.
“I would have to say that conversation might have been (in) my top five as far as shocks for me in life,” Gibbs said. “They said, ‘Hey, Carl’s outside.’ It was after the season. I figured he was going to come in and wish me a happy offseason and good Christmas.”
Instead, he walked in the office, sat down and said, “Joe, I think I made up my mind. I’m going to step out of racing.”
Gibbs says he didn’t understand when asked about it three years after the fact in 2019.
“I was sitting there and I go, ‘You do realize that every young guy your age wants to drive a race car and make a ton of money? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?'” he said of his conversation with his driver.
Gibbs and Edwards called a press conference, the decision was announced publicly, and the 28-time Cup Series race winner has only been seen in public a handful of times since, and only once at the track to help replacement Daniel Suarez get up to speed.
These days, Edwards spends his days farming, traveling and practicing jiu jitsu. He has even expressed an interest in running for political office in his native Missouri but not anytime soon. He is on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this summer — providing a reason to emerge from retirement and conduct interviews about life after NASCAR.
It was also a time for reflection, calling his nomination a ‘surprise’ and ‘an honor,’ for a driver who made a significant cultural impact without having won a championship or Daytona 500.
“All of it was hard but it was just hard enough that it made it a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “It was understanding the cars better. I wasn’t as good at that as I needed to be. The hardest thing though was understanding how to deal with people. Really understanding the team aspect of the sport.”
“When I first came in, I was a solitary racer. It was me and my close group of friends worked on our dirt cars. We did everything on our own, I made all the decisions. When I got to NASCAR, it took me a long time to understand that the sport was a lot bigger than just me, as Mike Helton made clear, a few times.”
“As a driver, I was a part of something bigger. Understanding how all of those pieces fit was the most difficult thing for me and the thing I carried forward the most. How to work with people to get the most out of any endeavor.”
The 2007 Xfinity Series champion says he doesn’t watch a lot of racing on television, which makes sense given the hours needed to successfully run a farm or sail across the Atlantic Ocean, but the Bristol Dirt Race caught the former Late Model racer’s attention.
It was the first time he actually wished he was still an active competitor.
“Ok, I don’t watch a lot of racing. But, I had to watch some of that,” Edwards said. “So, I watched a six-minute clip [of practice]. Afterwards, I told my wife, ‘Boy, that looks fun. I think I could actually make it there and there might be a car for me to drive.’ I mean, it looked so neat.
“My whole career, my favorite thing has been sliding the cars around and managing horsepower. That race, if it wasn’t any fun, I don’t want anyone to tell me that. Because, it looked like, just a blast.”
Anytime Edwards makes himself available for an interview, the conversation inevitably comes back to what could entice him to return to racing.
The 40-year-old says he’s still not interested in racing full-time, and probably won’t be ever again, but is starting to get the itch for a one-off appearance of some kind.
“I have thought about it a little bit. I miss the driving part, a lot, I miss the people,” Edwards said. “I don’t miss the schedule but something like a one-off would be a lot of fun.”
Edwards said the most likely situation for his one-off return would likely involve a road course race.
“I had a chance to do some testing in the Sim for Daytona [Road Course],” Edwards said. “That was really neat. Toward the end of my career, I really enjoyed the road courses. If I was going to do something, it would probably be on a road course.”
What Edwards has no interest in, however, is the current low horsepower, high downforce package used on intermediate tracks and superspeedways.
“If NASCAR somehow changed the package, to where there was no downforce and 1,000 horsepower,” Edwards said. “I think I could probably get pretty interested in that too.”