Carl Edwards: NASCAR's Manipulator Extraordinaire Smiles His Way to the Bank

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2011

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 24:  Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 Scotts Ortho Ford, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on June 24, 2011 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Carl Edwards has parlayed his mid-western 'ah shucks' persona into that of a shrewd businessman who is able to manipulate large corporations and high dollar race teams into a bidding war for the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

It is reported time and again that he is the most sought after free agent since Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his departure from Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Handling negotiations pretty much himself, he has Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing in one hand throwing money at him while Ford, Sponsors and Roush Fenway Racing sit in the other hand trying to match them and retain Edwards as the face of Ford in NASCAR.

In 2008, Aflac signed the largest sponsorship deal ever for Roush Fenway Racing when Edwards signed a three-year deal to drive the No. 99 Aflac Ford through 2011.

This is not Jimmie Johnson, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, or four-time title holder Jeff Gordon we are talking about.

Edwards may be sitting atop the Cup point standings with one win this season, but he has never won a title at NASCAR's top level. There is little doubt concerning his ability as a NASCAR driver.

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Yet, this driver with 19 wins in the Sprint Cup series is talking contract deals in the $30 to $40 million dollar category including a possible signing bonus for likely a three-year contract.

SPARTA, KY - JULY 07:  Carl Edwards drives the #99 Aflac Ford during testing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway on July 7, 2011 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Edwards is hardly the top seller in the NASCAR merchandise category. Though many fans find the talented, smiling, backflipping driver with the fan friendly persona to be a favorite, many don't.

There is the flip side of the fan base, who may think he has an anger management problem after his on track retaliatory actions with Brad Keselowski.

There may also be a group of fans who find Edwards arrogant and egocentric. They see through the toothy smile and find a smart and wily tough guy who will do what it takes to gain an advantage.

Even NASCAR seemed to be swept away with Edward's nice guy image when they dished out a minimal three week probation for his on track antics that could have caused harm to Keselowski.

The driver of the No. 99 for RFR was down 153 laps when he returned to the track and took deliberate aim at Keselowski's car, resulting in the car going airborne at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year.

The consensus reported in the media has Edwards making the move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012, but now Ford Motor Company has taken the unprecedented step of upping the ante to keep Edwards at RFR behind the wheel of a Ford.

Jack Roush gave Edwards his start in the top tiers of NASCAR racing, and now that they see the glimmer of the Sprint Cup trophy in their future, RFR needs Edwards to knock Johnson off his trophy perch.

Should the RFR driver jump ship for JGR, Roush and the Edwards team insist they will continue to work on capturing this year's title, but his departure would have to be the elephant in the room for the rest of 2011. 

Maybe Edwards' game plan was to stay at Roush Fenway Racing all along, and that is what he will announce in the near future. He is considered the lead driver there.

He has indeed become a manipulator extraordinaire to get what he wants, and perhaps Joe Gibbs Racing was just a pawn in his plan or maybe they have made an offer he can't refuse.

We shall soon see how this plays out, but Edwards will smile all the way to bank no matter which way the story goes.