With NASCAR’s Daytona 500 less than two weeks away some of the NASCAR Universe is still focused on Carl Edwards and his sudden departure from the sport. A new report makes the tale all the more fascinating.
Why did Carl Edwards leave NASCAR? That is the question all of his fans are still asking. The 37-year-old driver was laps away from winning his first championship in 2016 and seemed to have at least another 3-5 years left in the tank before stepping away from it all back in January.
At the time of the announcement, Edwards said it was about spending time with his family, walking away 100 percent healthy and starting a new chapter in his life. According to one Motorsports writer, there might be a bit more to it. Award-winning author and Motorsports writer Gordon Kirby wrote a column on Monday talking about how his NASCAR sources say Edwards will be back in 2018 with Team Penske, and that they are the reason he isn’t racing in 2017.
Their (his sources) 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 Gibbs originally made his name as a successful NFL coach with the Washington Redskins and may well be ready to retire after a long career.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.
Late Monday morning this story was picked up and pushed out on social media via a fellow writing collegue of Kirby’s, Lewis Franck.
My colleague, Gordon Kirby, write today he’s heard that Carl Edwards is being paid $15mill to sit out 2017 and race for @Team_Penske in 2018
— Lewis Franck (@LewisFranck) February 13, 2017
After discussing the story on his social media, Franck reached out to someone higher up in the food chain at Team Penske, and in case you had any doubt, the story was denied.
— Lewis Franck (@LewisFranck) February 13, 2017
So where does this leave us?
Despite the work that Franck did to confirm the story, which ended up denying the story, Kirby has not retracted it. Kirby seems to be standing firm by his sources that Edwards will be racing for Team Penske in 2018. Moreover, he seems to also stand firm that some (or maybe all) of JGR is being sold to Suarez’s father and that Team Penske is responsible for Edwards not racing this season with JGR.
That’s where the story stands but where does the truth lie?
If any of this were remotely true, neither JGR or Team Penske would confirm it, that’s number one. Number two, we obviously don’t know Kirby’s sources but it seems they are not people who other well-known writers like Bob Pockrass of ESPN know seeing as how Pockrass said he hasn’t heard such rumblings. Now that doesn’t mean Kirby is wrong, his sources really could be saying this and those sources really could be right, all we know is that other insiders aren’t hearing the same thing.
Digging deeper one has to wonder why Team Penske would pay Edwards not to run in 2017. Sure one could argue that it’s less competition on the track but not many teams have an extra $15 million laying around to convince a driver not to race. Also, is it really in the best interest of Edwards to sit out a season and then come back? Jeff Gordon missed half of a season and he looked rusty filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon was coming off of a season where he also made it to the championship race in Miami.
The story might be more believable if it was being reported that Edwards needed a mental break and that’s why he took 2017 off and then Penske approached him about jumping ship in 2018. This makes more sense because if Edwards did want to come back in 2018, where would he go? Is JGR going to demote Suarez? Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch aren’t going anywhere so where is the opening at JGR? Would they bump Erik Jones and put Edwards into the No. 77 over at Furniture Row Racing? That doesn’t seem like the best option either.
What gives this report legs is the fact that Edwards most likely would need a new home in 2018 if he were to come back. Team Penske does have Ryan Blaney waiting in the wings but if Edwards came back on a two-year deal, it would be his exit strategy and Blaney’s opening to step into a third car.
Kirby does end the report by noting that nobody in Penske or JGR will confirm, obviously. But just because the won’t confirm it doesn’t mean it’s not true or that there isn’t some truth to it. I guess in one year we will know if Kirby broke one of the biggest NASCAR stories in recent years or if his sources played him like a fiddle.