22 June 2011
Edwards' contract and comments stir controversy
Despite all the paddock chatter about how Edwards has never entirely fitted in at Roush Fenway in the same way that firm friends Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth have, and that he considers himself something of the outsider with the team, it still seems more likely than not that when it comes down to it Carl will be staying put in the #99 next year rather than jumping in at JGR. Then again, everyone thought it was inconceivable that Dale Earnhardt Jr. could ever leave the team that bore his (and his father's) name - but he did when he moved to Hendrick Motorsport in 2008. (Dale Earnhardt, Inc. subsequently merged with Chip Ganassi's NASCAR operation in 2009 to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.)
But the current contract uncertainty has meant that other teams are also taking notice - in particular Red Bull, who had rumoured to be looking at a replacement for Brian Vickers who has not been at his best since his return to the team after medical leave in 2011 for a blood clotting and heart condition that sidelined him last season.
Prior to the rumours that they may be about to quit NASCAR altogether, Red Bull were said to be strongly wooing another driver who will be a free agent at the end of 2011, Juan Montoya - although it would have been a seismic shock to see Montoya leave the Ganassi fold, a relationship that goes back to the Colombian's Champ Car days in the 90s. Once the news about Red Bull broke, Montoya was said to be rushing to re-sign with Ganassi as soon as possible.
Red Bull's withdrawal is likely to have an impact on any decision that Kimi Raikkonen has on any future forays into NASCAR. The possibility of him taking a seat in the Cup team - or else a driver such as Mattias Ekstrom, a long-time Red Bull driver in DTM where he is a two-time champion as well as a three-time winner of the Race of Champions - had recently been discussed as a possibility.
But Edwards himself - usually the perfect Mr Corporate and the only driver who can get away with diving into a crowd of fans to celebrate a race victory without any concern that he might not be universally popularly welcomed - also raised eyebrows with his post-Michigan comments concerning NASCAR's plans for the next generation of racecar due in 2013.
"Downforce is such a big factor in these cars, and I am really hoping NASCAR will take the opportunity in 2013 to take downforce away so the fans can see the guys race race cars and not race downforce," Edwards said. "Let's say all of the cars are a tenth apart and you are behind two or three cars, your car is two-tenths of a second slower. You can't make [that sort of margin] up."
NASCAR has strongly directed drivers not to criticise the sport, the races or the organisation in public after evidence showed that fan views about the sport strongly aligned with comments made by their favourite drivers. Denny Hamlin recently revealed that he had been secretly fined $50,000 for criticising NASCAR on Twitter, while Ryan Newman revealed that he had also been secretly fined in April 2010 for critical comments he made about the style of racing at Talladega.
Instead, drivers are expected to 'codify' their criticism. Instead of saying anything negative about the car's need for clean air, most drivers will simply say "track position is so important" and how it is difficult to pass with the current NASCAR aero package because the cars are so similar.
"I'm not whining; Denny earned this win and those are the rules we are under," Edwards quickly added, praising Denny Hamlin's race-winning performance at Michigan. "Track position was huge, and I just wish it wasn't like that."
His Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth was more on the "official" line and said that Sunday's difficulties had been more to do with the tyres than the car specification. "It has been more difficult to pass lately [but] I honestly think that is the tyre more than anything else. It seems like the tyres we have been running this year lay down a lot of rubber, which is nice, but on that restart it was slime from bottom to top and you are up there sliding. That is how it feels to me."
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