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Grace, class marked Carl Edwards' NASCAR career

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2016, file photo, Carl Edwards celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Associated Press that NASCAR driver Carl Edwards is retiring. Joe Gibbs Racing has scheduled a pair of news conferences Wednesday. Jan. 11, 2017, in which Edwards is expected to announce he is giving up the sport immediately.
(AP Photo/LM Otero, File) NY158

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2016, file photo, Carl Edwards celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Associated Press that NASCAR driver Carl Edwards is retiring. Joe Gibbs Racing has scheduled a pair of news conferences Wednesday. Jan. 11, 2017, in which Edwards is expected to announce he is giving up the sport immediately. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) NY158

Carl Edwards, who is expected to announce today that he won't race in 2017, won 28 races over a 13-season NASCAR Cup career. But, as much as anything else, Edwards will be known for the class and decency he showed after coming agonizingly close to winning two championships.

Edwards, 37, will likely be replaced in the No. 19 Toyota by Daniel Suarez, who won last season's Xfinity Series championship.

Two news conferences — presumably for Edwards and Suarez — are scheduled for today at Joe Gibbs Racing's Huntersville headquarters. News of Edwards' stepping away was first reported Tuesday by Fox Sports.

Edwards was one of four drivers who made the final four of the Chase in 2016. He also led the points standings heading into the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway but lost a memorable race and points battle against Tony Stewart.

Edwards is the third NASCAR star to retire over the past two seasons. Jeff Gordon retired after the 2015 season (although he drove several races as a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season). Tony Stewart retired after the 2016 season.

Edwards will be remembered for celebrating his victories by doing a back flip off his car. Ironically, he elected not to do the flip after winning what could be the final race of his career in November at Texas Motor Speedway due to wet conditions. Edwards' final back flip came after he won at Richmond last April.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage compared Edwards' decision to the retirement of former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders.

"Shocking and with loads of ability and time left in a very successful career," Gossage said in a statement. "Everyone, rightfully, expected Carl to win both races and championships. I talked to Carl about a month ago and he didn't give any indication he was considering this. It is a shock that just doesn't seem real."

Although Edwards didn't win a championship, he finished second twice (in 2008 and 2011) and fourth in 2016.

He came up short in 2011 to Stewart in an epic season finale at Homestead. In what was then another version of the Chase, Stewart beat Edwards, who entered the race with a three-point lead and started on the pole, for the title. Stewart battled from behind for much of the race, and would win for the fifth time in 10 Chase races. Those five victories gave Stewart the championship through a tiebreaker after they finished tied atop the point standings.

"That's as hard as I can drive," Edwards said after the race, in which he led a race-high 117 laps. "Give Tony and those guys the credit. That's all I got at the end."

Edwards clinched a spot in last season's final four by winning at Texas. Edwards was leading at Homestead with 10 laps left when he inexplicably wrecked Joey Logano during a restart, knocking them both out of contention (although Logano rallied to finish fourth).

Edwards took responsibility for the accident and even went to Logano's pit stall to shake hands with crew chief Todd Gordon.

"I just wanted to make sure he knew that was just hard racing, in my opinion, and that's hard racing and I wished them luck," said Edwards, who added that he didn't apologize to Gordon.

After the final race — after Edwards had once again come so close to winning the championship — he said:

"I am telling you, this team is going to be on fire next year. You watch out. This is going to be awesome."

Grace, class marked Carl Edwards' NASCAR career 01/11/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 9:13pm]
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