HAMPTON, GA (David Scott/The Charlotte Observer) - Carl Edwards wants to stress that he hasn’t necessarily retired from racing.
“Everybody calls it retirement,” Edwards said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “I haven’t called it retirement officially.”
By just saying that, Edwards continued to leave the door open to racing again. In the time being, he’s enjoying his time away from NASCAR, but he came to the Atlanta track Friday to help coach rookie Daniel Suarez, who is replacing Edwards in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota.
At a January news conference at JGR’s headquarters in Huntersville, Edwards said he was “stepping away” from driving. But that was quickly translated in several quarters as him saying he was retiring. Not necessarily so, he said.
“Everything is going really well,” Edwards said Friday. “It was a great decision that I made. I’m having a lot of fun. But it is cool coming back and seeing everybody.”
In a nearly 10-minute interview, Edwards dropped a couple of hints that his time as a top driver – he won 28 races in 445 career starts, including three at Atlanta – might not be over.
For starters, he said he brought along a helmet and fire suit to Atlanta, “just in case somebody needs something.”
He said he didn’t know if he was still licensed to drive in NASCAR, but also said he told Cup director Richard Buck that he had passed NASCAR’s drug test.
Edwards was asked if he would consider driving part-time in the Xfinity or Truck series this season if he was offered a ride.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s hard to come here and be half in and half out. I’m going to try hard to stick to my plan. I stepped away to get my perspective right. If I decide to drive something, it’s going to be 100 percent. And I wouldn’t agree to something full-time right now.”
Edwards came to Atlanta at the request of Suarez. He spent much of the day Friday atop the No. 19 watching Suarez – who finished 29th last week in his Cup debut in the Daytona 500 – practice and qualify for Sunday’s Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500.
“I thought he would need help with the race track, but (Suarez) is super quick and he’s learning this place really fast,” said Edwards. “Daniel is super intelligent. When I watch him work, he’s got a lot a lot of confidence and is a little more decisive than I was for sure at the beginning of my career.
“So I’m more helpful with him understanding the resources he has now, who to talk to about tire pressure and who runs the computer stuff, things like that.
“And he’ll have somebody to blame it on if it goes poorly.”
Suarez was grateful for any tips Edwards had.
“I’m sure it’s going to be helpful to have someone like him with a lot of experience just watching what’s going on in practice and try to give a little advice,” Suarez said before Friday’s practice.
Edwards said he didn’t know how long he would stick around in Atlanta. He flew his private plane to an airport that’s next door to the race track, so his travel plans were flexible.
He said he’s spent a lot of his free time in the outdoors around his house in Columbia, Mo., some of it “with a chainsaw in the woods.”
“I’m good outside; not good inside,” he said
The well-spoken Edwards also didn’t discount a recent news report that he might consider running for political office in Missouri.
“I haven’t decided on the political stuff,” Edwards said. “I believe in individual freedom and liberty and what the United States has been based on. Like anybody who’s been paying attention, it’s a little scary what’s been going on as a whole in the world and our country. If I can help with that down the line, fine. But I don’t have any plans right now.”