You've got to give it to Carl Edwards.
He has taken the high road every time he's entered into a contract year, not only keeping quiet about negotiations himself but even going as far as to make sure there isn't a whole lot of chatter coming from any place where he can help control what's being said and written. More impressively, he's also driven his tail off in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series no matter what his future looked like.
Too bad, at least if you're Roush Fenway Racing, that it will have absolutely no impact on whether or not Edwards stays with the organization. In fact, it appears to Tom Jensen of Fox Sports and other media outlets that Edwards already has one foot out the RFR door—and that he had it there before he even visited Victory Lane after the impressive performance on the road course of Sonoma.
Taken all together, Edwards could make a strong run at winning his first Sprint Cup championship this season, but it seems that even if he were to capture it he would still leave RFR at season's end.
All evidence has long pointed toward Edwards leaving RFR at the end of this contract to run a fourth car at Joe Gibbs Racing, although J.D. Gibbs told Jensen that any such announcement regarding adding a fourth car to what currently is a three-car operation at JGR would not come until September at the earliest.
The bottom line is that over the long haul another team, again likely JGR, can pay Edwards more and put him in equipment that is likely to be more competitive.
Since winning a series-high nine races and finishing second in points to Jimmie Johnson in 2008 at the age of 28, Edwards has in the five-plus seasons since won a total of seven races—and never more than two in any of those seasons.
Since Edwards' great season in 2008, no Roush driver has won more than three races in any season (Matt Kenseth, now with JGR, did that in 2011). All RFR drivers combined have a total of 22 wins over that time span.
Joe Gibbs Racing, by comparison, has had three different drivers (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kenseth last year) register seasons of three or more wins a total of eight times since 2008—and posted a total of 45 wins. So they've more than doubled RFR's trips to Victory Lane over the last five-plus seasons.
Edwards has been with Jack Roush since he broke into the Sprint Cup Series in 2004 as a 24-year-old rookie, running 13 races that year. The next year, in his first full-time season, Edwards won four races and finished third in the points standings.
The driver has been understandably very loyal to Roush, who gave him his big break. He also has been loyal to Ford, the manufacturer that, per Jensen, reportedly ponied up millions in stock options to keep Edwards from leaving for JGR and the Toyota camp in 2011—the last time Edwards was in this position.
And as usual, Edwards took the high road in the media center at Sonoma following his latest victory, telling reporters that crew chief Jimmy Fennig and Roush deserved most of the credit:
Well, these two guys (Fennig and Roush) sitting next to me, they give everything they've got all the time, and even though we're not obviously running as well as we want at the bigger tracks...we prepared for this race the very best we could, and we'll prepare for (the next Cup race at) Kentucky the best we can.
From my perspective, what I see as a driver is just everybody working very hard, and we get the results on the days when we can. But I hope it picks up the organization a little bit, this win from (the previous) week, because (the 23rd-place finish in Ford's backyard at Michigan) was really the low point of the season in my opinion.
All of Edwards' loyalty to Roush and the company that became Roush Fenway Racing in 2007 is commendable.
But when the Fenway Group bought into Roush's operation by purchasing 50 percent of it to create a new corporate entity, the belief at the time was that Jack, who greeted Toyota's entry into the Cup level of the sport with much trepidation in 2006, felt he needed an injection of capital to continue competing at the highest level in the sport—not only on the track, but for sponsorship dollars off it.
That fact is, though, that seven years later it is becoming more and more obvious that Roush Fenway Racing is losing the battle—not just to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota but more clearly to the conglomerate of Hendrick Motorsports-powered Chevrolet teams that currently dominates the sport.
When it comes time to compete not just for sponsorship dollars but for the best engineers, pit crews or whatever infrastructure may be required of a Sprint Cup team, Roush Fenway Racing seems to be coming up short these days to way too many folks in the Sprint Cup garage.
It could be argued that they technically aren't even Ford's flagship racing operation any longer, having been supplanted by Team Penske, which switched to running Fords the year after driver Brad Keselowski won the 2012 championship behind the wheel of a Dodge.
Therein lies the lesson that can be applied to Edwards' current situation.
In the end, this is going to be about money and how Edwards believes he can be most competitive in the long run. If owner Roger Penske could switch manufacturers the year after winning a championship (even though the move already had been announced long before Keselowski locked it up), does anyone really think a driver won't be willing to do the same?
And while it seemed for awhile that Edwards was more likely to remain in the Ford camp by going to Team Penske, where he would have run a third car, Penske himself dismissed that notion recently, telling NASCAR.com: "There's no interest. ... It doesn't make sense."
No, it doesn't. Neither does Edwards staying with the listing ship that is now Roush Fenway Racing, even though the organization obviously is coming off a big win with the driver at Sonoma.
It was nice. But it's way too little, way too late.
Unless otherwise noted, all information for this article was obtained firsthand by the writer.
Joe Menzer has written two books about NASCAR, and now writes about it and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.
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