NASCAR » 3 August 2011
Edwards speculations take centre stage
The uncertainty about Edwards' future is having the same 'logjam' effect in driver signings and team plans for 2012 that has often been seen in previous years in F1 when key drivers have been 'in play' and the market seizes until their decision is revealed. Having already lost the Crown Royal sponsorship on Matt Kenseth's #17 car, Roush Fenway also has to make a decision about the future of the #6 team and its driver David Ragan, who has come into a hot streak of two poles and a win in July at just the right time. Will Ragan be retained if the team can't find a new sponsor for Kenseth and needs to shed one of its four cars? If Edwards stays, Ragan might be out; but if Edwards leaves then the team can't afford to lose Ragan as well, especially if he now makes it into the Chase on a wildcard after his Daytona win.
It's long been thought that Jack Roush - who will hate being hustled by a driver who he doubtless feels should be more appreciative of what he owes the team in getting Edwards where he is today, and who has a particular all-American personal hatred of Toyota's motor industry ascendancy - has long has Clint Bowyer in mind as a 'Plan B' should Edwards leave. But after having delayed his own contract renewal plans for months now, signs are that Bowyer is getting close to a deal extending his contract at Richard Childress Racing after more sponsorship money has been found with 5-Hour Energy, and that would leave Roush without a fall-back position: going instead with a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or Trevor Bayne (both of whom are currently Roush Fenway development program drivers) would be Plan C but more difficult to find sponsorship money, as the lack of sponsor decals on Bayne's Nationwide car early in the season attests despite the youngster's Daytona 500 triumph in February.
The whole situation is boiling up into a genuine NASCAR local crisis, "kind of like whether we're gonna approve the debt ceiling or not," as Greg Biffle put it, making a comparison to the US national dept-pocalypse in Congress at the weekend.
"It's tough, but one thing I always did is when I knew what I was doing, then I said, 'This is what I'm gonna do,'" continued Biffle. "You can't have a deal done or plan to have a deal done and not let everybody know, so that it's fair for everyone to go make a plan on what's next."
And notably, for the first time this weekend Carl Edwards himself was no longer saying that there was no decision at all yet. "I'd rather not say," he said instead. "I'm not purposely withholding anything, other than to just be able to get the business side of everything done. When I'm able to talk about next season, if it's appropriate, I will talk about it, and I'll tell you guys."
Edwards' refusal to conduct contract negotiations in the eye of the media - and the fact that he's personally handling the discussions rather than letting an agent do it - is surely honourable, but it has also leaves the media and ultimately the fans frustrated about the situation in the meantime.
"We've all kind of parsed - or the media has parsed - every statement that Carl has made, in part because he's given very few of them," said Steve Newmark, the president of Roush Fenway Racing. "We understood that, and we sat down with him from the beginning, and he said, 'I don't want this to be public, and I'm going to maintain a very uniform approach to say that I'm not going to discuss it.' ... We have our discussions with him, and those are the discussions that matter to me."
Newmark said that he, Jack Roush and the team still had every hope and expectation of managing to re-sign Edwards. "I can't speak to Carl's thought process, although we've had a lot of good conversations," he said. "I can only tell you that my view and Jack's view is that Roush Fenway is the right place for him, not only this year but into the future. Ultimately, he's going to make the decision on what he thinks is the best for him.
"The goal, same as it was a few months ago, is to remain status quo and have the same four Cup drivers that we have now," he added. "Potentially having four positioned to be in the Chase. And then you look at how well Trevor and Ricky are running in Nationwide, it's been an ideal season for us on the track."
Estimates on when there might be news about a decision from Edwards range from "this week" through to "next month". Experts reading the tea leaves are trying to agree whether the longer the lack of news goes on points in the direction of Roush Fenway or Joe Gibbs Racing. One theory is that if the decision is to re-sign with Ford then the big announcement will be made at Michigan International Speedway (in Ford country) on August 21; if it's a move to Toyota then that's likely to be unveiled at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Home Depot's headquarters) on September 4.
Tagged as: Ford , Toyota , Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards , Roush Fenway , Jeff Gordon , Joe Gibbs , Joey Logano , Clint Bowyer , Greg Biffle , Denny Hamlin , JACK ROUSH , Steve Newmark
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