- Marty Smith, NASCAR
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NEW YORK -- Carl Edwards is sitting on a stage inside the Hard Rock Café in Manhattan, wearing his driving uniform, feet dangling over the edge. Per usual he is relaxed, jovial, proudly recalling his personal introduction earlier to "Dancing with the Stars" professional Edyta Sliwinska on the set of "Good Morning America."
He approached her, see. Shamelessly. Just up and did it. It felt right, so he went for it.
That's his mantra these days. If he feels it's right, it is right, and it's what he's going to do regardless of what someone else may think. Edwards isn't overly concerned with outside opinions at present.
He learned a difficult yet valuable lesson on Oct. 21, 2007. He'd had an on-track run-in with teammate Matt Kenseth in the Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and after the race a festering disdain for one another finally came to a head.
Edwards confronted Kenseth, pushed him away from a reporter and ultimately faked a punch. On camera.
The residual effect of the incident shocked Edwards. It didn't change him, per se, but it opened his eyes a bit to the world in which he lives.
"It just made me realize how people are so quick to point fingers and judge people, and how hypocritical people are," Edwards said, his usual grin concealed by a clenched jaw and a thoughtful gaze.
"It's amazing. Somebody said it really well -- we live in a society where, if somebody does really well, people literally, actively look for ways to bring that person down. That [incident] kind of opened my eyes to that a little bit more."
In the days following the confrontation, Edwards felt folks piled on the ridicule. He'd heard criticism before, about everyone. So much, in fact, that more often than not he tuned it out. But this was different.
"People saying negative things about you -- I read that stuff about me and it's like, wow, that doesn't feel very good," he said. "It kind of made me rethink what I believe, as far as things I read, and how you always just have to say, 'Hey, we all make mistakes and it's not cool to point fingers and stuff.'
"That's what I learned -- stay true to yourself, do what you know is right, be the best you can be and screw all those people that want to say negative things."
Edwards feels fortunate that he's remained close to hometown friends and family back in his native Missouri, people who "aren't caught up in all the PR B.S."
"Because I'm telling you, it's some crap," he continued. "Some of the things I read, and certain people, what they said [was] straight hypocrisy. It was very frustrating. But that being said, it's almost like that happens and then next week those same people come up and say hi. It's crazy. It's just the way it goes."
All said, Edwards feels stronger emotionally.
"Nobody likes negative things, but I think it makes you stronger," he said. "My parents raised me a certain way. I grew up a certain way. I try to do the best I can and you've just got to be confident the decisions you make are OK, and when you make a mistake, hell, say that was a mistake and move on.
"Show me a person that's never screwed up or did something they regretted, I'd be amazed."
So Edwards will reinvest himself in what he deems right. He'll stick to his guns.
"The deal is, I'm sitting here in front of you, and I've had the success I've had because I've gone and done what I think is right," he said. "I've done the best I can, and it's like my dad said, 'You're no better than anybody else, but you're sure as hell no worse.'
"Honestly, I've got my friends, and if people don't like me, that's fine, it doesn't really matter to me. I'm not going to walk around and not say what I got to say, so don't worry about that. If somebody pisses me off they're going to know it. If I'm happy, they're going to know it. It's straightforward. If that's wrong to some people, that's too bad."
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.