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The Way It Is/ What does the future hold for Carl Edwards?

by Gordon Kirby
Nico Rosberg has eruditely explained in great detail why he decided to retire after winning last year's World Championship. Rosberg's reasoning was clear and most people wish him and his family the best for the future.

But when NASCAR star Carl Edwards announced last month that he too is retiring there was no such clarity. Edwards said only that he wanted to spend more time with his family but his press conference left most people unconvinced. Unlike Rosberg, neither his heart nor mind seemed to truly embrace his decision.

Edwards, 37, has been a serious contender to win NASCAR's championship the past few years with Joe Gibbs' four-car Toyota team. He joined Gibbs in 2015 after ten years with Jack Roush's Ford team. In last year's NASCAR finale it looked like Edwards was ready to make it happen as he took the lead in the closing laps and pulled away. But a late-race yellow ruined Edwards' day as he crashed with Joey Logano on the restart, handing the championship to Jimmie Johnson.

Edwards also finished second in the championship in 2008 and 2011. He's at the top of his game and showed up for some pre-season photo shoots with no suggestion that he was struggling with any thoughts of retiring. But then came the announcement that he was stepping back and has been replaced by Daniel Suarez, winner of last year's second division Xfinity championship at the wheel of a Gibbs Toyota. Mexican Suarez is the first non-American to win a NASCAR championship and his arrival in NASCAR's Cup series has stoked hopes for NASCAR's growing popularity in Mexico.

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Edwards said he will come to some tests and races to offer advice to Suarez and true to his word he appeared in Suarez's garage stall during a recent test session at Atlanta. Is there more to this story than we know? In recent weeks some of my best NASCAR sources have been telling me there is. Their telling of the tale goes as follows.

Suarez comes from a wealthy Mexican family. His father's assets includes a broadcasting company that has been pitching for the rights to televise NASCAR in Mexico. More to the point, Suarez Sr. has made a deal with Joe Gibbs to buy Gibbs' team which is Toyota's factory-backed operation.

Gibbs has run a NASCAR team since 1991 and has won three championships in 2000, 2002 and 2005. His operation became Toyota's lead team in 2007 and won Toyota's first NASCAR title in 2015 with Kyle Busch. Gibbs originally made his name as a successful NFL coach with the Washington Redskins and may well be ready to retire after a long career. It's said that Suarez Sr. intends to keep Gibbs' current team intact, including its partnership with Toyota and TRD.

Meanwhile, I'm told that Edwards is being paid more than $15 million to sit-out this year and that he will return to action next year at the wheel of a third Penske Racing Ford. Penske runs two cars for Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and has been planning to expand to three cars. Penske currently runs a third car for Ryan Blaney in partnership with the Wood Brothers, one of NASCAR's longest-running teams, so RP's team is entirely prepared to run Edwards next year.

For his part Edwards would be a perfect match for Penske. He's not only an excellent driver and mature man but also has a university education, unlike most NASCAR (or F1) drivers. Edwards speaks well, makes first-class TV commercials and is renowned for his athletic backflips off the side of his car after winning races. He would be sure to make Penske's NASCAR team even stronger.

Of course, nobody will confirm any of this fascinating little tale. It may be that I've been fed a red herring. Only time will tell.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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