Carl Edwards' 2012 Sprint Cup championship was already looking distinctly under the weather, and now his hopes of making the Chase have taken a major blow after the announcement that his long-time crew chief Bob Osborne is exiting the role because of unspecified health issues.
Osborne is to take a senior management role within the Roush Fenway Racing team, while Roush Fenway team veteran Chad Norris is to step into the role of crew chief for the #99 car with immediate effect.
The overall partnership between Edwards and Osborne goes back to Edwards' Sprint Cup series debut in 2004. The pair briefly split in 2006, so the current arrangement going back nearly six years makes it one of the longest lasting in the Sprint Cup series - although not quite a match for the phenomenally successful pairing of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in the #48 which began in 2002.
"I have had the pleasure of working with Carl Edwards for the past nine years," said Osborne in the team statement announcing the changes. "I'm proud of the 18 wins we've had together in Sprint Cup Series competition and our two second-place points finishes.
"At this time in my life, however, concerns with my health have necessitated that I change my role within the organisation," continued Osborne. "This transition is not an easy one, but I'm thankful to have the full support of Jack [Roush], Carl and the entire organisation."
"I cannot say enough good things about Bob Osborne," responded Edwards. "I'm so thankful for what he's done for me as a driver, and he is without a doubt one of the smartest guys in the sport."
Chad Norris, who will be taking over calling the shots for Edwards starting at Indianapolis in two weeks' time, has been with Roush Fenway since 2005 when he started as a crew chief in the Nationwide and Truck Series championships. He's most recently been in charge of the team's research and development test program that has seen him act as crew chief for Trevor Bayne's Nationwide Series outings and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s limited Sprint Cup program, as the youngster prepares to take over the #17 car from Matt Kenseth full time next season.
"We're very fortunate to have Chad Norris as part of our organisation to take over for the #99," said Edwards. "I've known Chad for a long time and he is a fierce competitor. We've got our work cut out for us over the next seven races, and I've got every confidence Chad can lead our team to where we need to be."
Edwards and his new crew chief face something of an uphill battle: with only seven races remaining before the Chase cup-off, Carl Edwards is in 11th place and 46pts - a full race-win - out of the top ten where he needs to be. The only other way in to the post-season shootout for the championship is to get one of the two "most wins" wild card, and so far this season Edwards has been unable to rediscover the way into victory lane - his last win was in Las Vegas early in 2011, 52 races ago.