Carl Edwards shocked the racing community Jan. 11, announcing his abrupt departure from Joe Gibbs Racing and full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup competition.
The 37-year-old didn’t call it a retirement, and he dismissed rumors he was forced out or was leaving to spearhead the arrival of a new manufacturer. Instead, Edwards said he just wanted to spend more time at home with family.
We have a desire within our sporting culture to judge or quantify an athlete’s career as soon as it comes to a close. So naturally, JGR hadn’t even called a press conference before fans and pundits began debating Edwards’ Hall of Fame merits.
So, let’s prematurely walk down this slippery slope together. Is he a HOF driver? It simply depends on your personal metrics. Those who nominate and vote will surely elect him eventually, given how inclusive they are at five inductees a year.
But is he a worthy Hall of Famer?
Detractors say he hasn’t landed a Cup Series title, and they point out the lack of success at Daytona or Indianapolis. His 28 wins and three playoff heartbreaks are impressive but not historically elite.
Therein lies the question: Is the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, designed to honor champions and big race winners, or is fame the key word?
From the moment he arrived in the Cup Series at Michigan in 2004, Edwards carried himself like a star. There was something different about the strong-jawed, fresh-faced boy from Columbia, Missouri. His aww-shucks persona and marketing prowess aligned perfectly with a skill set that produced results right out of the gate.
Edwards was the natural.
A Hall of Famer shouldn’t be crowned just based on results. One more point during the 2011 Chase for the Championship or a 2011 Daytona 500 win (instead of a runner-up finish behind Trevor Bayne) really wouldn’t change his impact on a fundamental level.
Edwards captured the attention of a youthful demographic during an era when few things could. He conducted himself with class and was a perennial championship threat. But more importantly, he was mind-blowingly famous.
And isn’t that what the Hall is all about?