24 May 2011
The mystery of Carl Edwards' wreck
"It's going on behind closed doors," Roush said of the contract discussions. "It's not something that we're going to debate or discuss in the public. It's not a media issue, it's a private business issue that's ongoing."
The longer the season goes on, the stronger Carl Edwards' hand seems to get in the negotiations: he's got a big lead in the Sprint Cup championship as it nears the halfway point of the regular season; he's just delivered the All-Star title to the team; and he's also won three Nationwide races for the team. Add to that his popularity with fans - which translates into sponsor appeal as well - and Edwards is surely the biggest driver 'catch' on the market. His name seems to come up in media speculation every time a seat opens up with any of the big NASCAR teams.
That suggests that the stumbling point might be Edwards' salary demands, and Roush hinted that this might indeed be the case: "With some accuracy, I say I really don't do the money, I try to stay out of the money part of it. But I will have to pay attention to this deal as it gets closer."
It's the tension that you'll see across every type of motor sport around the world: drivers who think that the success of the team is down to them, and teams who feel that the driver would be nothing without the right hardware that they deliver to him.
Roush Fenway have some cause to believe that Edwards should be just a little more grateful and appreciative of what he gets from them. As well as Edwards, the team's Sprint Cup line-up also boasts Matt Kenseth (one of only three drivers to win two races so far in 2011) and David Ragan (who won the Sprint Showdown at the weekend to make it a Roush Fenway clean-sweep of all the weekend's prize-winning races and segments.) In the Nationwide series, the team just put young Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into victory road for the first time in his career, and the line-up also usually includes the currently-sidelined Trevor Bayne.
So would Edwards be as successful in another team? Probably not. But would Roush Fenway be the same force in NASCAR without their "rock star" leader? Again, probably not. No one wants to see the partnership founder over money, but no one can assume a deal will be done, either.
"Those talks are going on behind closed doors and we'll hopefully get something done. But right now we're running well and that is fun," said Edwards. "All I'll say about that is we're running really well right now and it's because of Jack Roush, Ford, all these people's hard work."
"I think Carl said it best," agreed Roush. "We're trying to maintain the focus on keeping our season together. We want to put ourselves in the best situation we can to make a championship run, to be in the top 10 [so that they make it into the Chase]."
When Roush signed Edwards in 2008, he memorably said that he "wouldn't break the bank" the next time around. The state of the economy is also biting NASCAR teams and sponsors, further restricting his freedom of movement to offer Edwards incentives to stay. But there are plenty of teams out there with deep pockets waiting and willing to pounce, such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Red Bull Racing and Penske Racing.
While Edwards has considerable personal popularity with fans and extending outside the sport as well, it's nothing compared to the fevered devotion that follows Dale Earnhardt Jr. When Dale needed to win the fan vote to make it into Saturday's All-Star event, the surprise wasn't that he won, but that the entire telephone network of the mainland United States didn't go into meltdown in the process.
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