Once a substitute teacher in Missouri who had big dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, Carl Edwards can now boast about an illustrious 15-year career in NASCAR.
The Columbia, Missouri, native began working towards his dream when, after just three semesters in engineering at the University of Missouri, he decided to leave school and pursue the career he wanted most in life.
Like many success stories, Edwards road towards competing in NASCAR was wrought with challenges, including making sure the right people took notice of who he was and what he was capable of. Edwards even went so far as to personally hand out business cards to other racing teams and offer up his services. He was adamant about achieving his dream, though, and he knew what lay ahead of him.
“First time I stepped on the throttle of my dad’s race car, I mean, I thought I was the greatest driver ever, and about a half second later I pulled my foot right off, and I couldn’t get it to go back down,” Edwards said. “I thought, man, this is going to be tough.”
His first big break came in 2002 when he began competing for MB Motorsports in the Truck Series. Out of the seven races he ran, his best finish was eighth at Kansas Speedway. It was enough, though, to capture the attention of Jack Roush, and become a full-time Truck Series driver for Roush Racing in 2003.
His first career win came at Kentucky Speedway in the Built Ford Tough 225. As he was celebrating, he back-flipped off of his car in order to save himself from a potential fall, and the rest is history as the flip became his trademark.
Edwards went on to win two more races that season, along with Rookie of the Year honors. It was clear then there was no telling how far the talented driver from humble beginnings could go in the sport.
Throughout his 15-year career, Edwards said he accomplished more than he could have ever dreamed of.
He made history early on in 2005 while he was competing full-time in both the Cup and Busch (now XFINITY) Series when he won the Aaron’s 312 and the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, becoming the first driver ever to win a race in both series in the same weekend. He went on to be named Rookie of the Year in the Busch Series that season.
In 2007, he found success again in the Busch Series when he clinched the series championship.
The next year, Edwards earned a career high of nine race wins in a single season, though it still was not enough to earn him the Sprint Cup Series Championship that would continue to elude him throughout the rest of his career.
In 2009, Edwards was met with hardship again when he experienced a fourth winless season. Though it wasn’t an easy struggle to handle, it was at times like these that he realized that his passionate trove of fans were a part of his team.
“They were a part of what I do… I’ve learned to really, really appreciate the fans,” he said.
Later in 2011, after many triumphs and trials, the driver of the No. 99 Ford won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a highlight in a season in which he lost the championship once more after an incredibly tight points battle with Tony Stewart.
After his move to Joe Gibbs Racing, the now driver of the No. 19 Toyota came oh so close to the Championship title the past two years , finishing fifth and fourth respectively in the standings.
After 15 years, 72 NASCAR national series combined wins, and 10 career Chase berths in the NASCAR Cup Series, Carl Edwards announced he will no longer compete full-time. While he was unable to win a championship, despite having been so close so many times, the 37-year-old says he is content with how far he has come in the sport.
“Everybody… has worked hard at something and been nervous and insecure but kept digging and learned all those lessons, and then you get to a point where you’re like, I’ve done this. This is great. That is way more than I ever expected,” he said.
Many fans, drivers, and public figures in the sport have expressed their sadness over the Edward’s decision to walk away from racing, as well as their appreciation for the driver, including CEO and Chairman of NASCAR Brian France.
“His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport,” France said in an official statement. “Carl’s passion and personality will greatly be missed – as will the signature back-flips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories.”
Despite walking away from the sport indefinitely, Edwards refuses to call this his official retirement from NASCAR.
“Who knows what the future holds,” Edwards added. “If anybody has any ideas, I’m open, and I’ll see you guys around.”
Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
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