A month before the 2017 season, Carl Edwards, one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, abruptly retired from the sport at age 37.
Since then, Edwards, a winner of 28 Cup races and the 2007 Xfinity championship, has remained out of the limelight while enjoying a life of farming and traveling instead of punctuating racing victories with back-flips.
As Kansas Speedway celebrates its 20th anniversary season next weekend with the May 2 NASCAR Cup Buschy McBusch Race 400, Edwards, of Columbia, agreed to a far-ranging question and answer session with The Star.
Q. How have you been spending your time since retiring from racing?
A. I’ve had an opportunity to do a lot of different things. I’ve done a lot of traveling. I’ve been to Europe and all over the Mediterranean, trying to speak English at the end of a dock to someone who only speaks Italian. I’ve been able to slow down and have time for all the people in my life. We have a farm and manage farm properties which keeps me in touch with how our world works, with growing our food and international trade, and that’s been interesting. And it’s allowed me to work with my brother. I’m a terrible farmer but I’m learning a lot.
Q. Why did you decide to walk away in the prime of your career?
A. I raced cars for about 20 years, and that’s all I thought about literally, 24 hours a day. That was my focus, and there were other things in my life I wanted to do, and I wanted to do them really well. So I needed the time to do them. I was able to leave on my terms when I wanted, and nothing forced the issue. It’s a luxury, and I’m aware of it.
Q. Were you worried about long-term effects of serious injuries after a nasty crash in the 2016 finale at Homestead?
A. Yeah, there’s a risk to it. It’s a risky sport, and we also learned a lot more lately about risks that aren’t so clear … it seems that any kind of contact sport over time, you can have lasting damage, cognitive issues. Once you add up the acute risks of racing with those risks, plus I wanted to do other things. I haven’t regretted it for one minute.
Q. Is your hat in the ring as a candidate to run in the Republican primary to replace U.S. Senator Roy Blunt?
A. I don’t have an active campaign going on. But I do believe in America, and I really do believe in the founding principles and individual freedom and liberty and sustainability of our way of life. There might be a day when I’m able to help with that. I’ve told people my views and that I care. That’s why my name gets brought up. I care about America.
Q. Any thought of returning to NASCAR, even for a one-time race?
A. I don’t have one planned. I have talked to some people about it. But it interests me for sure. … I did watch a little bit of the practice from Bristol. That was interesting to me that they ran on dirt. That was really cool. … The timing has to be right. It has to be something I really want to go do … If that time comes, then yeah, but not right now, I don’t have a plan for it.
Q. What was more memorable at Kansas Speedway, your only win there, in the 2004 truck series, or the desperate banzai move that you made on Jimmie Johnson, only to scrape the wall and finish second in the 2008 Cup race?
A. I got the trucks win, which was special, and looking back on (2008), I can laugh, but, man, I was frustrated after that race. I wanted to win so badly. But that’s racing. It brought that out in me because it was so special to win there. I know Clint Bowyer felt the same way. I wasn’t able to win in the Cup series there, but man that was one that was on the calendar and was bigger than any other race.
Q. Do you have an interest in coming over to Kansas Speedway and see some races and old friends?
A. If I were to go anywhere, I think I would go over to Kansas … because it’s a really special place for a lot of reasons. When they built Kansas, it was a perfect example of NASCAR’s rise as a sport. To bring NASCAR to the Midwest … Kansas Speedway legitimized my dreams and the love of the sport I had. And the way they built that track and how successful that area has been important.
Q. What do you remember about your first NASCAR Cup win in Atlanta in 2005?
A. When I crossed the finish line, it was like a dream world. I couldn’t believe the race was over, we had won …. It was a shock. I woke up the next morning, they had me going to the New York Stock Exchange and ring the bell, and I was scared when I woke up it was a dream. That was one of the biggest moments in my life.
Q. What other cherished memories do you have from your career?
A. I think about that a lot, and the farther away from it I get, the more I realize NASCAR truly taught me lessons I apply every day. Number one, it’s process. The guys in that garage want to win a race, and it is a complex process, a lot of people work together, and they work hard. It also taught me that things don’t always go your way. You lose more than you win. Being able to deal with that and understand the lessons and move forward and keep working no matter what, that’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned, especially in the world we live today.
Q. How often do you look back on finishing second at Homestead to Tony Stewart and losing the 2011 Cup championship to him on a tiebreaker?
A. I don’t think negatively about that other than the simple fact I would have rather won it. But we performed pretty well, and Tony and his team did, too. If we would have run that race 10 times, there would have been races we won, and races they won. It was a battle. Other than not winning the darn thing, it was really enjoyable. I had a lot of fun in that process. Nowadays, when people complain about losing something, I say, ‘Let me tell you about losing’ …
Q. What would have winning a Cup championship meant, to go with your Xfinity title?
A. It would have been the ultimate achievement to win both championships. But it wasn’t to be. The way everything has gone in my life, I feel blessed beyond measure. I would never go back and change anything. I believe you give it your best effort, you lay it out there and when it’s done, it’s done. I’m extremely proud of the performances we had, and I don’t need a trophy to tell me how well we did.
Q. You’ll likely be on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot for the second time in 2022 and rank 13th all-time with 72 wins (28 Cup, 38 Xfinity, six trucks) across the three NASCAR touring series. What are your thoughts on being elected to the Hall of Fame?
A. Just to be considered is an honor. It’ humbling. I’m very well aware that the sport has done way more for me than I’ve done for the sport. As far as people who are deserving to be recognized, I feel I’m farther down the list than 13th … there are a lot of folks who have done a lot of great things in the sport, and I sure hope they are honored before I am.
Q. How much did you enjoy your off-track activities such as co-hosting “Live with Kelly Ripa,” giving away showcases on “The Price Is Right” and serving on the President Obama’s ’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition?
A. I miss the free stuff. They used to give me stuff. My trainer used to tell me how I was getting an education about life that nobody gets. You get to go to the White House, and on television, I got to meet many amazing people, who did so much in their lives. Those experiences are so cool.
Q. Where did you do your first back-flip?
A. Capital Speedway … in Holts Summit, Missouri.