Toyota pipeline flows freely with youth, talent
RELATED: First look at new Toyota race car The expeditious elevation of Daniel Suarez into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last week reinforced the importance of a feeder system for teams hoping to groom young, talented drivers for future endeavors at the top level. "Look around. What would we have done?" Joe Gibbs, founder and owner of Joe Gibbs Racing , said Jan. 10 following two whirlwind announcements at the organization's headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina . Suarez, the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion and the first Mexican-born driver to win a national series title in NASCAR, was scheduled to return to the XFINITY Series this year to defend his title. But the surprising departure of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Carl Edwards created an unexpected opening within the JGR camp and the organization's No. 19 entry. RELATED: Edwards steps away, Suarez to replace " Full timeline Fortunately for JGR, the 24-year-old Suarez was waiting in the wings. Instead of competing full-time in the XFINITY Series, Suarez will now take over the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry vacated by Edwards for 2017. He will also compete in a select number of NXS races. "I think the hard work, working on developing young guys is a big part of this," Gibbs said of organization's XFINITY Series effort. "Thank goodness (Suarez) was there and we had done that." Suarez is one of several drivers in a Toyota pipeline that has become filled with young talent. The automaker, which made its NASCAR debut in 2004 in the Camping World Truck Series, continually seeks to identify gifted drivers from a variety of racing's lower levels, then assist them and their teams as they move through the ranks. Erik Jones will compete full-time in 2017 for Furniture Row Racing as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr . in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after racing for JGR's XFINITY Series program a year ago. RELATED: FRR adds Jones to its growing team Christopher Bell will once again drive for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series after finishing third in points last year. Although he was sidelined for part of the '16 season following surgery for a brain tumor, Matt Tifft , 20, made 10 XFINITY Series starts for JGR last year as well as 10 NCWTS starts for Red Horse Racing. Ben Rhodes (19) and Cameron Hayley (20) competed last season for ThorSport Racing in the Camping World Truck Series. "Our farm system is going to continue to be something that we invest in," David Wilson, President & General Manager, Toyota Racing Development, USA, told NASCAR.com. "It's validation and it just furthers our resolve that in spite of the inherent risk … the return on that investment is still going to be good and it's going to validate our commitment." Wilson was scheduled to attend this past weekend's Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. The prestigious event, which concluded Saturday night, was won by Bell. MORE: Bell triumphs at Chili Bowl "I want to show them how important it is for them to be representing our brand," Wilson said. With more than two dozen of the 300-plus participants at the Chili Bowl affiliated with Toyota, Wilson said there is "no doubt" that someone from the group "is going to be in an announcement like this that happened (at JGR) five years from now." Having an abundance of talent is a good problem, but it is still a problem, in part because of the limited number of seats/rides available in the various series, according to Ed Laukes, Vice President of Integrated Marketing Operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA. "We are always concerned about being overloaded with the young guys as they're coming through the ranks," he said, "because we don't want to have that talent get developed around TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and our guys, and then they end up with another company, with another manufacturer, with another race team." Toyota officials are eager to help identify and work with drivers and teams as they grow, according to Laukes. But ultimately, it's up to owners to continue to invest in their own programs or, as Furniture Row Racing did last year, make the switch to Toyota to further enhance their efforts. Furniture Row made the switch from Chevrolet to Toyota for 2016. The Denver, Colorado-based organization has since added the second team, opening up an opportunity for Jones to move up to the premier series. "That's always going to be the secret sauce in the whole thing," Laukes said. "Because we can't do it as a manufacturer. We're not a team owner, we never have been and we have no plan of being a team owner. … "But it always is a concern. We do a lot of stuff in Late Model, a lot of stuff in Midgets. We’ve been around a lot of those series for a long time." JGR develops and draws talent from more than just the organization's XFINITY Series program. Kyle Busch Motorsports plays a key role in the process as well. Gibbs said Busch, the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and driver of the team's No. 18 Toyota, "has been very good at analyzing and discovering young talent. "He still races in Late Models and all that kind of stuff," Gibbs said. "I talk to him a lot and say, 'Hey, who do you see?' Or ask him an opinion. I've asked him for his opinion on Daniel, on Erik. And he’s normally pretty much spot-on. He's really good , I think, at evaluating drivers." While Busch has been criticized by some for competing in, and often dominating, races in other series, running those events has allowed him to evaluate his KBM equipment as well as the younger drivers. "For us, when we put somebody in his trucks, we pretty much know they're going to be in the best stuff," Gibbs said. "Now, it's up to them. And if they can't get it done with Kyle, then odds are there's something wrong. … "Hopefully that's the way it is with our XFINITY program. We know (we have) the best crew chiefs, best motor, best car. If they can't get to the front with that, then odds are … that's what you're evaluating. We're all looking for that special driver." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Post-Race Reactions: Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200
James Buescher and Johnny Sauter comment on their strong runs at the Rock, while Nelson Piquet reflects on his pit road mistake.
Class of 2017: Induction day schedule, info
Members of the eighth NASCAR Hall of Fame class will join their rightful place among other NASCAR legends Friday night in Charlotte, North Carolina . Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons officially answer the call in a ceremony beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Here's all you need to know about the event. The details WHAT: Induction ceremony for eighth annual NASCAR Hall of Fame Class WHEN: 8 p.m. ET WHERE: NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, North Carolina HOW CAN I WATCH: Television coverage on NBCSN GO DEEPER: NASCAR.com will live-stream the post-induction press conferences. Stay tuned for more information and a link. The class
Charitable foundations of NASCAR drivers
NASCAR drivers make a big difference off the track and in communities across the country. Here's a look at drivers' charitable foundations, as well as the causes and initiatives supported by those organizations. Clint Bowyer : The 79 Fund The 79 Fund was established by NASCAR driver and Emporia, Kansas, native Clint Bowyer to benefit the children of Emporia. Clint's desire to use the Emporia Community Foundation for his charity came from knowing the funds could be used in a variety of ways to help the children of Emporia. " Learn more here. Kyle Busch : The Kyle Busch Foundation The Kyle Busch Foundation is committed to empowering children, families and communities to overcome hardship by providing essential tools (financial, material and experiential) to allow them to live their best lives possible, while fostering a stable and inspiring environment to live, learn and challenge themselves, as well as ensuring their day-to-day needs are met. " Learn more here . Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon : Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma The Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma's mission is to discover and share the best ways to prevent and treat severe injuries in children. Events such as the Dillon brothers' annual 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament help benefit the Childress Institute. " Learn more here . Dale Earnhardt Jr .: The Dale Jr. Foundation The Dale Jr. Foundation is a charity dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals with a focus on youth, the resources to improve their confidence and education, and the opportunity to achieve extraordinary goals. " Learn more here . Denny Hamlin : The Denny Hamlin Foundation The Denny Hamlin Foundation is committed to raising awareness and funds for the specific needs of children with cystic fibrosis. They partner with organizations that focus on cystic fibrosis research, treatment advances and overall quality of life care. The Foundation also supports children with other chronic diseases. " Learn more here . Kevin Harvick : The Kevin Harvick Foundation The mission of the Kevin Harvick Foundation is to support programs that positively enrich the lives of children throughout the United States. " Learn more here . Jimmie Johnson : The Jimmie Johnson Foundation The Jimmie Johnson Foundation currently focuses on funding K-12 public education, primarily through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Champions Grant program, which have been awarded to school projects located in California, Oklahoma and North Carolina , where the Johnsons grew up and currently reside. In addition, each year the Foundation selects five charities that support K-12 public education to be featured on Johnson's Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope. Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope charities receive a cash grant and national exposure on the helmet worn for a select Cup race. Finally, the Team Up For Technology program encourages individuals to nominate a K-12 public or charter school in the United States with the winning school selected to receive a $48,000 cash grant for a technology makeover. " Learn more here . Kasey Kahne : The Kasey Kahne Foundation The Kasey Kahne Foundation is committed to raising awareness and funds for charities supporting chronically ill children and their families. The Kasey Kahne Foundation strives to empower youth and inspire their future through education by donating to programs dedicated to fulfilling children's needs for success. " Learn more here . Brad Keselowski : Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation Brad Keselowski 's Checkered Flag Foundation strives to support those who have sacrificed for our country, to include military members, veterans, first-responders among others. Since its inception, CFF has hosted or participated in events with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Armed Forces Foundation, The Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Detroit F.I.R.E. benefit team. " Learn more here . Joey Logano : The Joey Logano Foundation The mission of the Joey Logano Foundation is to inspire and assemble the NASCAR community to assist those across the nation who are in need of a second chance due to natural or human disaster. The Joey Logano Foundation partners with other organizations to provide comfort and relief to those in need after such unforeseen circumstances. " Learn more here . Ryan Newman : Rescue Ranch Formed in 2012 on 87 acres in Statesville, North Carolina , Rescue Ranch promotes humane education by focusing on rescuing on a fundamental level through hands-on learning and care for animals. Rescue Ranch promotes, through its education, respect for all animals, as well as, agricultural, environmental, and wildlife conservation, and facilitates rehabilitation, rescue and responsible pet ownership in order to enhance the human-animal bond. " Learn more here . Elliott Sadler : The Hermie & Elliott Sadler Foundation The Hermie and Elliott Sadler Charitable Foundation is dedicated to raising autism awareness and promoting research for a cure while also supporting initiatives that improve educational opportunities for children and their families. The Foundation provides support to projects that share the ideals and concerns of the Sadler family. " Learn more here . Martin Truex Jr .: The Martin Truex Jr . Foundation The Martin Truex Jr . Foundation raises awareness and funding for childhood and ovarian cancer initiatives. " Learn more here .
Take a tour of Wood Brothers Racing's new shop
Ever wanted to take a tour around one of the race shops of one of NASCAR's most storied teams? Well, now you can -- thanks to Wood Brothers Racing , formed in 1950. While the team is old, the shop is new. The organization recently moved headquarters to Mooresville, North Carolina to be closer to their Ford-affiliated counterpart, Team Penske . Now separated by just seven miles, expect the technical alliance between the pair to grow considerably in 2017 as the Wood Bros. attempt to put a driver in the Chase for the first time in its history with talented Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sophomore Ryan Blaney . Watch the video below to see the Wood Brothers' new digs.
Auto-Owners Insurance expands sponsorship pact with Furniture Row Racing
RELATED: New looks for 2017 DENVER, Colo. (Jan. 16, 2017) -- Furniture Row Racing announced that Auto-Owners Insurance has agreed to a multiyear primary sponsorship for Martin Truex Jr .'s No. 78 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Cup Series. The Fortune 500 company, which joined Furniture Row Racing in 2016 as a primary sponsor for three races, will double that amount in both 2017 and 2018. The six races the Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme will adorn Truex's No. 78 Camry in 2017 will be at Kansas Speedway (May 13), Michigan International Speedway (June 18), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 23), Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 9), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 7) and Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 12). Auto-Owners Insurance, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, provides auto, home, life and business coverage for NASCAR fans and customers through local, independent agents in 26 states. The company is based in Lansing, Michigan. "Teaming up with Furniture Row Racing has been an outstanding fit for Auto-Owners, and we are excited to continue our partnership for the 2017 and 2018 seasons," said Mary Pierce, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Auto-Owners. "Martin and the No. 78 team have pioneered their way to excellence at the highest level of NASCAR. We truly admire their hard work and consistency, and look forward to being a part of their continued success." The Auto-Owners Insurance blue hue shared a competitive experience with Furniture Row Racing in 2016. In the three races that Auto-Owners Insurance was the primary sponsor, Truex won the prestigious Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina , finished seventh at the fall race in Martinsville, Virginia, and was eighth at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. "There was indeed something special about the success of the blue Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry last year and we are more than thrilled that the company is expanding its partnership with Furniture Row Racing for the next two seasons," said Furniture Row Racing team president Joe Garone. "Auto-Owners Insurance has been a winning company for a century and we are humbled that they have placed their confidence in our race team." Truex was equally excited to hear about the new sponsorship agreement. "Winning the Southern 500 -- a triple crown race -- with the blue Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme was without a doubt one of the main highlights of my racing career," said Truex. "We want to give Auto-Owners Insurance more success as we look forward to the 2017 season. I was able to visit the Auto-Owners Insurance headquarters in Lansing and came away feeling proud to be associated with a company that has had 100 years of success."
The race to 30: Three drivers eye career mark
In December we analyzed three drivers who are closing in on 40 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . This week, we'll look at those close to a lesser milestone, but a milestone all the same -- 30 career wins. In premier series history 24 drivers have reached the 30-win plateau, from Richard Petty ( 200 wins) to fellow Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett (32). Of those 24 drivers, 18 have been eligible for the NASCAR Hall of Fame … and all 18 have been inducted, or in the case of Mark Martin, will be inducted. Jeff Gordon (93 wins) and Tony Stewart (49 wins) aren't eligible yet, but are widely considered locks to be enshrined as well. The other four drivers above 30 wins in NASCAR history are active and ineligible at this time. Here's a look at the three current drivers (it was four prior to Carl Edwards ' announcement last week) with 30 in their sights, as well as a full list of drivers with 30 or more wins in NASCAR's history.
Determination, focus drive Martin to Hall of Fame
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 " Martin's top moments Mark Martin is respected and revered for a 31-year NASCAR racing career that includes 40 Cup victories, 49 XFINITY wins and five heralded IROC championships. He is considered one of the most talented, highly focused and broadly successful competitors in NASCAR history. And later this week, Martin will formally acquire a designation that makes him most proud of all: NASCAR Hall of Famer. "When I'm introduced at a function, now people can call me something, I'll have a title," Martin, 58, said this week with a laugh. "Prior to that, you kind of had to search for a title, although I had done a lot of cool and amazing things in my career." His long list of "cool and amazing things" is what earned Martin this highest of honors. He joins Benny Parsons, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks in this year’s Hall of Fame class and will be formally inducted Friday in Charlotte (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). RELATED: Parks set early standard " Prolonged excellence Childress' hallmark For Martin, it is a story of supreme determination and talent. In addition to his 40 wins and five championship runner-up finishes in NASCAR's highest level, Martin proved to be one of the series’ most diverse competitors -- ever. He won four GT class championships competing in the Rolex 24 during the 1990s. And his five IROC titles -- and four more runner-up IROC championship finishes -- showed Martin’s great ability bettering the best drivers across all forms of racing from NASCAR to IndyCar to sports cars to sprint cars. It is certainly something that separates and elevates him to the highest of standards through four decades of the best competition in multiple genres. So understandably, Martin had to really think about what in his vast career makes him most proud. "I don't know if there's a single thing," Martin said. "One thing, I would have to say the fact that I made it to NASCAR at such a young age (22). At the time it was an amazingly young age, then I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career again. "So I would say perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word. Having to start my career all over again and building my way back. Having a second chance is probably the biggest thing." "And the second thing is what I did in the IROC Series." Martin has acknowledged that he was as focused and intense as they came. He was the first driver to seriously incorporate fitness training into his race preparation -- something that may have eased his ability to compete at such a high level even into his 50s. That determination to find an edge was apparent in the garage, even from an early age. He was among the rare drivers to frequently be seen looking into the hood of his car and working alongside the crew. It was the way he was raised by his father Julian, who took great care in guiding his son's passion. There are photos of Martin’s earliest racing days clearly showing how Julian Martin had gone so far to alter his son's first race cars out of love and safety -- mounting the steering wheel in the middle of the car instead of having it on the far left. Dad and son travelled from their native Arkansas throughout the Midwest following the racing dream and they were very close -- now the hard work rewarded with Martin’s long list of achievements and this highest of NASCAR's high honors. Heartbreakingly, Julian was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Nevada mountains in August of 1998, also taking the life of Martin’s stepmother and 11-year old stepsister. Martin remembers immersing himself in competition as best he could to deal with the tragedy. Martin won the night race at Bristol two weeks after losing his father. Immediately after climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, he emotionally thanked the race fans for "their sympathy, love and support" saying their "love for our family has meant everything." "I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to go racing and that's what my dad would have wanted," Martin acknowledged last week. "It was tough, but it would have been tough sitting on a couch in a daze, too. "To me, racing was sort of a responsibility that I had. I felt responsibility toward the 50 or 100 people that supported the (then-Roush Racing) 6-car and a responsibility to race. I just didn't feel like missing a race because I was grieving. … To me, at the time, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. "It did help me cope with the horrendous loss I was experiencing because I did have to pick up and go racing." And for Martin, the success he would later experience in the second half of his career is as impressive and inspiring as anything he accomplished. He came as close as he ever had to winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, losing the race to Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.02-seconds -- a hood-length -- in a photo finish that marked Martin’s best ever showing in the Great American Race. RELATED: Closest finishes in the history of the Great American Race Two years later, at the age of 50, Martin challenged Jimmie Johnson for what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, winning five races and claiming seven pole positions. Martin led the standings after each of the opening three Chase races, only to finish runner-up to Johnson, a seven-time winner on the year. It marked the fifth and final time Martin was a championship runner-up in an amazing 20-year span of his career. It is a remarkable accomplishment and something he says he is at last comfortable enjoying, free of any near-miss regret. "I never scored enough points to win one, and that's that," Martin said, when asked about it last week. "I would have won one if I had scored more points than anyone else. … and I let that take an enormous amount of joy (from me). "It's something I let go of and I refuse to allow that to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful of, be grateful for. I accomplished a lot in my career and I’m not sour about the things I didn't accomplish." The attitude accompanies good reason -- because by all standards Martin accomplished so much and is admired by so many. Later this week, he will be fittingly celebrated in all the glory he deserves for a career that showed everyone what hard work and mental focus could produce. Forever more, Mark Martin shall be known and introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "It means more than anything I achieved while I was racing because I was so busy racing, anything I achieved I never paid attention to," Martin said. "I was just storming ahead worried about how I would win the next race. "Now that I've had some time to soak it in, it's the last big deal, the big win, the crown jewel of my career. "Don't forget the people in the Hall of Fame are my heroes, the founders of the sport, the real men that did it with their bare hands. I'm a little bit uncomfortable going in there with them, to be honest with you, because I don't feel like I belong in that kind of company." Perhaps once he stands on stage -- properly celebrated and duly honored -- Martin will accept that he is absolutely a part of that good company. The best. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
JR Motorsports ramps up with 2017 expansion
RELATED: Driver Tracker " On the move: Changes in store for 2017 The encore for an organization that placed both of its full-time drivers into the Championship 4 field in the inaugural NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase last year has the chance to be even greater. JR Motorsports has that unique possibility, an opportunity granted by not sitting still. Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier return to the fold after prosperous debut years with the team, but that's where the offseason status quo ends. JRM plans a full-court press for the upcoming XFINITY season, expanding from two to four full-time drivers in an all-out push to bring home the championship it barely missed out on in 2017. "To have that opportunity to go up against three teammates, to see the growth in our shop, to see the growth in our teams, it's really, really fun to watch," Allgaier said. "I feel like if you came back here next year and said we'd have four cars from JR Motorsports in the final four, it wouldn't surprise me at all." A four-car sweep for the Homestead-Miami finale in November would mean stellar introductions by the two newest faces in the JRM stable: up-and-coming teenager William Byron, a NASCAR Next alum, and 30-year-old vet Michael Annett , back in XFINITY after a three-year stint in NASCAR's top division. The addition of Byron, a 19-year-old prospect in the Hendrick Motorsports system, actually counts as a reunion. The Liberty University student was a former driver for JRM's Late Model program on the weekly and touring level. His teammates have already seen what he can do in top-level equipment. Byron won seven times in his rookie NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, with only a crucial engine failure in 2016's penultimate race keeping him from the championship fight. It's the reason Sadler has touted him as "a star of the future" and why Allgaier echoed the thought, calling Byron "an absolute class act and an amazing talent." Kelley Earnhardt Miller -- who co-owns JRM with her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr . -- spoke with tones of regret in describing how Byron got away in late 2015, snapped up by Kyle Busch Motorsports and seemingly earmarked for an upward career arc in the Toyota pipeline. That changed last August when team owner Rick Hendrick brought him back into the Chevrolet camp, cognizant of the creeping advancement in age of his Monster Energy Cup Series roster. "For that to all come back full circle, we're real excited about it," Earnhardt Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last month. "He's just a great kid and a good family, and his story is just so cool -- doing the computer racing [on iRacing] and then telling his dad he wants to race and then not racing until he was 15. It's just a good story. But Mr. Hendrick deserves the credit there, trying to look at his next moves because he's going to have some drivers that are on the retirement horizon in the next several years, so smart move for him to make all that happen." Said Byron: "I just remember their ultimate goal for me when I started racing Late Models was so I could race an XFINITY car there. In a weird way, I got back to that and it's going to be really cool to return next year." To accommodate the escalated XFINITY Series growth, which Earnhardt Miller said has maxed out the team's resources, JR Motorsports has closed its truck series operation. Cole Custer , who drove the JRM No. 00 truck the last two seasons, has since moved on to Stewart-Haas Racing 's XFINITY program. As in past years, JR Motorsports plans to run an extra XFINITY entry in select races with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne behind the wheel for two races each. But at the heart of its growth are the core four XFINITY regulars, a direction chosen in light of new driver participation guidelines that go into effect in 2017. The continuity will keep JRM from scrambling to shuffle its roster once the Chase playoff begins and the limits on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers moonlighting in the XFINITY ranks become more stringent. But the organization will still need to make inroads against stout competition, especially Joe Gibbs Racing , which won 19 of the 33 XFINITY races last season and took the other two spots in the four-driver championship round. Reminded of the heady assignment a day after last season's finale, Allgaier was unwavering. "Even with the Gibbs guys," Allgaier said. "I don't know, I just feel like with the packages that we've seen of what's a possibility for the XFINITY Series next year, the work that we're doing at the shop and the cars and just all the things that we've been working on, I really think next year's an opportunity for us at JR Motorsports."
Edwards' class post-Miami wreck lets him leave sport a winner
RELATED: Edwards steps away from racing " NASCAR Nation reacts WATCH: Entire stream from Edwards, Suarez news "If you're looking for a driver you're looking for me." That's what was written on young Carl Edwards ' business cards nearly 20 years ago, cards he used to hand out at the race track while trying to transition from his day job as a substitute teacher in Columbia, Missouri, to a racer. But even as he stood on the stage in front of the press corps at Joe Gibbs Racing Wednesday to announcing his departure from full-time racing after 12 seasons in NASCAR's premier series, his humble, Midwestern roots were apparent. They'd never left. They were there even at Homestead-Miami Speedway , when a crash with Joey Logano in the final 10 laps took Edwards from Victory Lane to the garage, his dreams of winning the 2016 title were crushed as his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Instead of reacting with anger, Edwards went to the No. 22 pit box, shook crew chief Todd Gordon's hand and wished the team the best of luck the rest of the race. RELATED: Relive the wreck " Edwards shows class post-accident at Miam i That act spoke volumes about Edwards' character, both as a person and a race car driver. "In pro sports, you're going to get the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat," JGR owner Joe Gibbs said. "And I think for all of us, everybody's going to handle a victory pretty good … but that adversity, when you hit that … I think you guys have all seen (Edwards) go through some tough stuff and really handle himself extremely well." No one knew it, but that race, that night, would serve as the closing act in Edwards' full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career finale. With the exception of winning the title, Edwards' night in South Florida couldn't have served as a better curtain call for the 37-year-old driver. MORE: Timeline of JGR change s "Let me tell you about Homestead, though. With 30 laps to go, 40 laps to go, 30 laps to go, 20 laps to go, that's what I live for," Edwards said. "…That is racing to me. I mean, (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) and I had worked all year to be in that moment, to pass ‑‑ that battle with Jimmie (Johnson), and then to be able to pass Joey and Kyle (Busch) for the ultimate prize, driving just as hard as I could, and to be in that position and to know that day we were getting it done. "...That part of Homestead, for me personally, I won." And really, he's won again in a way as he steps away from premier series racing. Edwards is walking away from a career that he can be proud of, a stint across parts of 13 years in NASCAR's premier series that boasts 28 victories, 22 poles and two runner-up finishes in the championship standings to Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart in 2008 and 2011, respectively. MORE: Look back at his win s " Edwards gives three reasons for leaving And he did it right: He did it with class, humility and the Midwestern demeanor that has followed him from Colombia, Missouri, to North Carolina and to race tracks across the country. "It's very flattering," Edwards said of the public's positive, always-do-the-right-thing perception of him. "Yeah, I just …" He stopped, turned away from the audience, visibly wiping away tears. When he spoke again, his voice quivered a bit. "I just want to be a good person, you know. Sorry, guys. Damn camera shutters are killing me there. It's the lighting, it's awful," he joked, trying to make light of his emotion. It’s great to go out with a championship. But sometimes, it's not always about the trips to Victory Lane. It usually wasn't for Cousin Carl, even when he was handing out business cards in the beginning. "You guys know that I don't race just for the trophies," Edwards said. "This has always been a really ‑‑ this has been a neat journey for me and it's always been something that I've been rewarded by the challenges … So 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. "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." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;