HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Carl Edwards detests social media.
He prefers his followers have sharpies and photos instead of egg avatars and his only “likes” are NASCAR victory celebrations.
“I enjoy normal, social interaction,” Edwards said. “It’s hard once you get down the path of social media.”
Edwards recalled a time his brother handed him a phone and insisted he read Brad Keselowski’s tweets. Keselowski, who has tweeted from his car during a race, was the first NASCAR media darling on the social network. He uses his 140-character forum as a bully pulpit, and Edwards was curious.
“It was like a time warp,” he said. “I handed the phone back an hour later. I went across the entire Twitter-verse. I feel like life is short. I don’t want to spend it staring at my phone.”
Edwards is willing to make a notable exception to his blackout and deal with the scrolling and trolling of the digital age under one condition: If he leaves Homestead-Miami Speedway as the champ.
That’s right. Edwards will end his holdout and join Twitter should he win the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
“I’ll no longer be Twitter-less Carl,” he said.
NASCAR champ seems like a pretty cool line in a Twitter bio.
The title has eluded Edwards in 12 full seasons at the Cup level. He finished third in his rookie season of 2005 and is a two-time series runner-up — though his stinging loss to Tony Stewart on a tiebreak in 2011 has gone down as the greatest finale finish in the Chase era.
The 37-year-old Edwards can ease some of that disappointment if he defeats six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, 2015 champ Kyle Busch and Joey Logano on Sunday and brings home the trophy for owner Joe Gibbs. The first to finish out of the four contenders is the 2016 champion.
“With the way everyone’s been running with this group, I think you’re going to have to win the race,” Edwards said.
Under the best-finish format the last two years, Kevin Harvick and Busch did indeed clinch their championships with a victory at Homestead. The statistics say Edwards may have the best shot. He won Homestead in 2008 and 2010 and his 9.2 average finish at the track is the best of the four drivers.
“This is the best opportunity I’ve had in a long time,” Edwards said.
He’d have to stretch back five years for his head-to-head showdown with Stewart to find a better one.
Edwards, then driving for Jack Roush, had seemingly checked all the boxes needed to win a championship. He started the race with a three-point lead in the standings, and did everything he could from the minute he arrived in Florida. His Roush Fenway Racing team put his Ford on the pole, he led a race-high 119 of the 267 laps and still finished second to Stewart.
Stewart and Edwards finished tied in the final Sprint Cup Series points standings — a first in NASCAR history — and Stewart took the tiebreaker based on his five victories to Edwards’ one.
“Those couple of weeks leading up, I could tell Tony and those guys were on a roll,” Edwards said. “It was the most fun I’d had in racing since I’ve been in NASCAR. Everything we did, every lap, every qualifying session, every pit stop mattered. It was real easy to focus.”
Edwards also insisted he wasn’t rattled by Stewart’s trash-talking in the lead-up to the race. Stewart, who retires from NASCAR on Sunday, agitated Edwards with a series of verbal jabs at the championship press conferences.
Stewart told Edwards he could visit the Cup trophy at the victor’s banquet in Las Vegas and that he’d talk to his hero A.J. Foyt “after we win on Sunday.” Edwards says he was simply outdueled by the better car on the track, not by barbs on a dais.
“I knew as soon as Tony started talking trash, I knew he was giving 100 percent effort,” Edwards said. “He knew what it was going to take. He was putting everything out there that he could. That made it really special. I feel like I got to race Tony at his absolute best. I could tell how much it meant to him to win that championship.”
Edwards recently gave his helmet from the race to Stewart as a retirement gift.
“It was neat to see how excited he was about it,” Edwards said. “If that’s something that was important to him, really special to him, I was really happy to be able to do that for him.”
Edwards won this season in the No. 19 Toyota at Bristol, Richmond and then a rain-shortened Chase race at Texas that clinched him a berth in the title race. Edwards is in his first season paired with crew chief Dave Rogers, and the two will have to fend off JGR teammate Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens to win.
“We try to help each other and we talked about it,” Rogers said. “This is a scenario we talked about long before this race. How do we race? Once we get to that final race, how do we race, and our agreement all year was nothing changes.”
Because of that rain at Texas, Edwards failed to perform his traditional victory backflip off the car. He’s ready for a leap into the NASCAR record book.
“That’ll be a fun backflip to do,” he said.
And then would come the plunge on Twitter.