HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Carl Edwards gave three very detailed reasons why he is stepping away from NASCAR competition, only to circle back to the subject later and put it a bit more succinctly.
"Life is short," Edwards told a room full of media, sponsor representatives and other assorted team and NASCAR officials Wednesday. "You've got to do what your gut tells you."
And Edwards said his gut told him it was time to move on to something else.
Edwards, 37, officially announced that he will not compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017, calling a halt to a career that included 28 victories at NASCAR's top level, 10 Chase appearances and two second-place finishes in the series' championship points battle.
The 2017 season was to be his third in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, his team since joining JGR in 2015 after an 11-year career at Roush Fenway Racing.
Instead, it will be 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Daniel Suarez who will be at the helm of the team's No. 19 entry. Suarez, the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national championship and a product of the sanctioning body's Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs, will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the season-opening Daytona 500, scheduled for Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Edwards, wearing a dark suit and gray dress shirt as he walked on stage at the organization's headquarters here in Huntersville, didn't entirely rule out a return to racing in some form or fashion, explaining that "If I'm going to get back in a race car, which I'm not saying the R (retirement) word here … I'm calling Coach (Joe) Gibbs first.
"There is no better race team. There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry. There's no better engine. There's no better crew chief than Dave Rogers. There's no better crew."
Why step away when he is seemingly still at the top of his game? He finished fourth in the 2016 points standings and was in the title picture right up until a crash with 12 laps remaining took him out of contention in the series’ final race.
He won three times in '16, captured a series' best six poles and was regarded as one of the early title favorites heading into the '17 season.
The reasons for his departure, he said, "are pretty straightforward."
For starters, he said he is satisfied with his career accomplishments, even though he did not win the series championship. His rewards have been in meeting the challenges and succeeding as he worked his way up the racing ladder.
"You go from that to working up the courage to ask people to drive a car to being put in situations where you know if you drive well and you win, you get sponsorship and everything works," he said. "Going through that whole process and becoming a better person, a stronger person, a better competitor, a better teammate, a better friend to people, that's a big deal to me, and I feel accomplished.
"And I know when I sit in that race car that I am the best race car driver I can be. So whether or not I have a championship, I'm really satisfied with that."
Secondly, there's the tremendous amount of time required to compete at the sport's highest level. "And not just the physical time," he said, "but I wake up in the morning thinking about racing. I think about it all day. I go to bed thinking about it. And I have dreams about racing. And that's just how it is.
"I've been doing that for 20 years and I need to take that time right now and devote it to people and things that are important to me, things I'm really passionate about."
Finally, he said, he wants to walk away healthy. That he is able to do that, he said, "is a testament after all the racing I've done and all the stupid stuff I've done in a race car; that is a true testament to NASCAR, to the tracks, to the people who have built my race cars, to my competitors, and to the drivers who have come before me who haven’t been so fortunate."
There is risk, he acknowledged. It can be a dangerous and painful sport.
"I'm a sharp guy, and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years," he said. "So those risks are something that I want to minimize."
Officially, his last victory came at Texas Motor Speedway in last year's AAA Texas 500. It was his fourth win at the 1.5-mile track and guaranteed Edwards a berth in the Championship 4.
The Columbia, Missouri, native scored his first victories in 2005 in both the XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, sweeping races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That same season, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne also scored their first victories in the sanctioning body's top series.
Edwards' resume includes four wins at Bristol, three at Atlanta and two at Pocono, Michigan, Las Vegas, Homestead, Phoenix and Richmond. He scored single wins at Dover, Auto Club, Sonoma, Charlotte and Darlington in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
He also won the 2011 Sprint All-Star Race, a non-points event, at Charlotte.
Gibbs, who started Joe Gibbs Racing in 1992 and has seen it grow from a single-car entity into a powerful four-car organization, said he was "totally surprised" when Edwards told him of his decision.
"There was nothing about contracts, future talks," Gibbs said. "I just want to say … it was totally a surprise."
Gibbs said conjecture that Edwards was being pushed out or that there were other reasons behind his departure were wrong.
"Honestly, it was a total shock. … I could really tell in his face that it was something he'd really thought about … he was kind of emotional and it was something he really felt like he needed to do."
Rather than push the idea forward, Gibbs said he and Edwards agreed to sit on the idea for a few days. "Because if we start down this path, there's no turning back on this, he said he told his driver. "When you start visiting sponsors and stuff, it's going to be huge."
But after four days, Gibbs said, "I could tell.
"Carl's very much -- out of anybody in our NASCAR world -- his own man and you could tell he'd thought through it. At that point I said, 'I don't know if we can do this, but we're going to try. I'm going to give it my best shot.' "
Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO, said Edwards "has made an indelible mark on NASCAR.
"His hard-charging driving style has led to memorable moments that will live forever in the history of our sport. Carl's passion and personality will be greatly missed -- as will the signature backflips that NASCAR fans have come to expect following his victories. We wish Carl nothing but the best as he enters this next phase in life."
Edwards made 445 career starts and won 22 poles. He also earned 124 top-five and 220 top-10 finishes. Five of his career wins came at JGR while his 23 with Roush Fenway trailed only Mark Martin (35) and Matt Kenseth (24) for that organization.
He is a former XFINITY Series champion (2007) with 38 wins in that series and a six-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series.
He is the third winning driver to retire from the sport in the past year -- four-time champion Jeff Gordon retired following the 2015 season to move into the TV booth with FOX for its NASCAR coverage while three-time champion Tony Stewart wrapped up his NASCAR career at the close of '16.
Those moves, Edwards said, did not factor into his decision. "This is my decision," he said, "and it's something that I made on my own."
In addition to the No. 19 Toyota, JGR also fields Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entries for Busch, Kenseth and 2015 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.