The 2011 season has been a mixture of good results on the racetrack and uncertainty off it for Carl Edwards.
Edwards has performed as well as many expected. He is leading the standings and has won one race so far this season.
But there is an elephant looming in the room: Edwards' contract with Roush Fenway Racing runs only through 2011, and it could be hard for Edwards to make a determined title run without knowing where he'll be in 2012. Some drivers are speculating that the distraction of contract uncertainty could hurt Edwards' title chances.
Jeff Gordon recently said said that no matter which way Edwards is leaning, it's a bad thing to wait too long before making a decision. “Whether or not he's staying or going, it's a big distraction, a lot on his mind,” Gordon said. Gordon also believes that if Edwards ends up leaving RFR at the end of the season, there's no way he will end up winning the 2011 title as a lame duck driver.
This may be especially true with the way Jack Roush has been known to handle departing drivers. Former RFR driver Kurt Busch was let go before the end of the 2004 season after announcing his intention to drive for Penske Racing the next year, just one year removed from a title run in the RFR No. 97 car.
A similar situation occurred last year at Richard Petty Motorsports when Kasey Kahne left the organization with five races to go, opting to get an early start with his new Red Bull team.
Kahne believes that if Edwards decides to leave Roush, the potential problem wouldn't be with Edwards the driver making a push for the title. Rather, the issue could be whether or not Roush decides to keep giving Edwards top-notch equipment even as he's on his way out the door.
Kahne acknowledged that the situation likely would work out better for Edwards than it did for him last season, simply because of the fact that Edwards is in a position to make a strong run for the title. Still, if the championship came down to a battle between Edwards and one of his RFR teammates, Edwards' cause could be hurt if he were a lame duck driver with the team.
RFR teammate Greg Biffle recently said that Edwards simply has to man up and make a decision: “Carl is a big boy, he’s a man and he has to make his own decisions. Eventually, he’s going to have to make a decision.”
Time is running short for Edwards to decide where he wants to race in 2012. In 2008, the last time his contract was set to expire, Edwards signed a contract extension in early May.
This time around, it's already three months later in the season and Edwards has yet to re-up with Roush. For that reason alone, I suspect he won't be driving the No. 99 next year.
Ultimately, whether or not Edwards stays with RFR may come down to money. Jack Roush is one of the stingier owners in NASCAR, and Edwards is the top free agent driver.
Although Edwards has enjoyed significant success during his time at RFR, his staying or going may hinge on whether the Cat in the Hat is willing to fork over the money necessary to retain a marquee free agent like Carl Edwards.