Thursday, January 12, 2017

Enigma walk

In the end, maybe it was as simple as this: He was just tired of it.

Tired of the spotlight. Tired of the almosts. Tired of the week-in, week-out grind, the long hours away from the sanctuary of family and Missouri; tired of the reality that every time he climbed in a race car, the odds in his favor grew shorter and shorter.

There were no definitive answers from Carl Edwards yesterday, on a day that begged for some. No one (OK, hardly anyone) walks away from his profession when he's at the very pinnacle of it, especially a profession that offers so many rewards as NASCAR does. Edwards is, after all, only 37 years old, and he has won 28 times on NASCAR's premier circuit, and the last we saw of him at Homestead, he was a handful of laps from his first Cup title until he tried to block Joey Logano on a late restart and wrecked them both.

That opened the door for Jimmie Johnson to win his seventh title. And it was the second time in five seasons Edwards has been thisclose to the ring, the first time coming in 2011 when he couldn't quite run down Tony Stewart at the same Homestead track, and lost the championship in a tiebreaker.

And so to yesterday, when he announced he was stepping out of his Joe Gibbs ride, effective immediately. The Daytona 500, and the start of another season, is barely a month away. Edwards quite reasonably would have among the favorites to win the 2017 Cup title. Instead ...

Instead, he's calling quits, although he was ambivalent about whether or not it was for good. That was the only thing that made sense about yesterday, except for one thing.

Which is that Edwards never seemed to have racing in his blood, at least to the degree Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon or so many others do.

Stewart, who announced last year he would retire at the end of the 2016 season, could shatter a leg on a dirt track in a sprint car, and suffer a devastating emotional blow when he accidentally killed another driver in another sprint car on another dirt track, and he would always climb back in the car. Ditto Gordon, who endured excruciating pain from a back injury but kept getting behind the wheel.

Ditto their contemporary racing guru, Dale Earnhardt -- who got busted up in a devastating crash at Talladega one year, then came back against the advice of doctors to start the Brickyard because, well, it was the Brickyard. And it was what he did.

It crawls inside you, racing does. Unless it doesn't.

It's surely not for any of us to say that's how it is with Carl Edwards, but there have been clues. Away from the track, at every opportunity, he heads back to Missouri and his family as quickly as he can, where he zealously protects his privacy. He is as guarded in his public persona, playing the necessary  role of NASCAR Star as a friendly, cordial, willing participant, but not one given to familiarity. He always seemed to go along with the trappings of his profession because he was good at his profession, not because he was its captive.

Again, that may be a completely inaccurate read. But it lends itself to the simplest explanation for yesterday.

Maybe he was just tired of it.

If so, it's understandable, because it is a grind, 36 races spread across just 39 weeks, three weekends off between mid-February and late November. And every week, because it's racing and imminent peril is part of racing, the possibility exists you're going to climb into your ride and not climb out whole. That, too, was apparently part of the equation; Edwards admitted that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s season-ending concussion issues weighed heavily on his decision to walk away.

Tired of the risk?


Tired of all the rest of it?

Maybe. Just maybe.

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