Roush Fenway Racing has confirmed long-running speculation that Carl Edwards is to leave the team at the end of the 2014 Sprint Cup season.
The 32-year-old from Columbia, Missouri has been part of the Roush line-up since 2003, and has been the full-time driver of the team's #99 Sprint Cup car since 2004. He has 67 career victories in NASCAR's three national series - 23 of them in Cup competition alone - and clinched the Nationwide Series championship (then called the Busch Series) in 2007.
"I will always be thankful for Carl's contribution and the role he played in many Roush Fenway wins and championships," said team co-owner Jack Roush. "We wish him well for the future. In the meantime, we are excited about continuing our quest for a championship with Carl and the #99 team in 2014."
Edwards - who is in the running for a place in this year's Sprint Cup Chase play-offs as a result of his race win at Bristol Motor Speedway in March - would not be drawn on what his plans were for 2015, but Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark confirmed that the driver had told them "more than a month ago" that he was in serious discussions with another team.
“Carl and I have had a constant dialogue every since I've come on board and he's been very open and forthcoming with us behind closed doors," explained Newmark. "I know that he's very adamant about not discussing this stuff in the media, but that doesn't mean that he's keeping it to himself. We've had an ongoing dialogue and I think we're both aware of our positions throughout this period.
"I think he was reflecting on what was going on in other sports and including our sport, and I think he just thought that when he retires at some point off in the future he didn't want to wonder what it would be like to be in a different situation," he added. "That was the primary discussion that we've had and I think you guys know Carl very well. He's extremely thoughtful and I think he really kind of evaluated everything that was going on and that was just the decision that he made."
Paddock speculation is that this means Edwards will follow in the footsteps of his former team mate Matt Kenseth, who left RFR in 2012 for a move to Joe Gibbs Racing where he has since found renewed success. Contractual matters meant that Kenseth wasn't able to confirm his own move until mid-September that year, and the same is likely to be true for Edwards.
At the same time as confirming that Edwards was to leave, the team was also able to announce that Greg Biffle has re-signed with the team in a 'multi-year' deal. "Greg Biffle is one of the most purely talented racers I've ever seen behind the wheel of a car," said Roush as he confirmed that the 44-year-old from Washington state is to stay with the team.
"I don't have the words for what Jack Roush has meant to my career," said Biffle, who drives the team's #16 car. "During our 16 years together, we have won multiple championships and numerous races on every level. I am as excited about what the future holds for me here as I am about what we have been able to accomplish in the past.
"Our goal remains to run up front, win races and become the sports' first triple-crown winner by having a championship in all three series," Biffle added. "I know that we have the right ownership, the right team, the right resources and the right manufacturer to get that done here here at Roush Fenway."
Alongside Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will continue at the wheel of the #17 entry. The former Roush Fenway development driver stepped up to Cup competition in 2013 after Kenseth's exit, and from next season will take over the primary sponsorship from industrial supplies distributor Fastenal which had previously supported Edwards.
"Fastenal is a first class partner and we are extremely pleased to have them team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the #17 team starting next year," said Roush.
"As a driver, I'm thrilled to have Fastenal on board for next season," added Stenhouse. "I grew up working in a race shop, helping my dad build cars and racing engines. I appreciate the chance to work with a partner like Fastenal that plays such an important role in building our race cars and helping us win on the track."
Although the #99 Cup entry currently associated with Edwards will not be back in full-time action in 2015, the team will continue to be a three-car line-up following the announcement earlier this season that Trevor Bayne will get his chance to run a full-season Cup campaign in the #6 car.
Bayne - who sensationally won the 2011 Daytona 500 - has been racing full-time in the Nationwide Series alongside a limited Cup campaign with Wood Brothers. He will make the transition to full-time Cup racing with AdvoCare as his primary partner.
Roush said that Biffle's years of experience of top-level competition would prove vital in helping to guide and mentor his two young team mates in 2015 and beyond.
"His experience combined with the raw natural abilities, enthusiasm and desire in both Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne have me very excited for the future," insisted Roush. "Although we still have a lot to accomplish this year, both [team co-owner] John Henry and I are looking forward to going to the track in 2015 with this blend of veteran leadership and youthful potential.”
All of Roush Fenway's current and future drivers will be in action later on Sunday in the Crown Royal Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they will actually take the green flag in consecutive positions: Edwards starts from 18th place ahead of Biffle, Bayne and finally Stenhouse in 21st position.