As the NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader, Carl Edwards has had it all — fast cars and a solid race team.
Unfortunately, that “all” just happened to come in the middle of a contract year. For 13 of 19 weeks this season, Edwards has topped the points standings. With the exception of a valve issue at Pocono Raceway in June, it’s been smooth sailing for the No. 99 Ford — until now.
Edwards said Friday morning that he has not signed a contract for next season.
“We’re working hard on the contract stuff," Edwards said. "I’ve heard a lot of different ideas out there, but it still remains the same. I’m gonna make the decision that’s the best one I can make and I’m gonna do that outside of the media."
Roush Fenway Racing and Ford have remained gracious and generous with Edwards since the negotiation period began. While both entities stepped financially up to accommodate their marquee driver, the time has come where Edwards’ delay will cause Roush Fenway Racing fiscal harm as a comfortable period has passed to court current or potential sponsors for 2012.
"Eventually, he’s gonna have to make a decision and it’ll be best for everybody so, one, we can plan for sponsorships and drivers and teams and people," teammate Greg Biffle said. "There are a lot of people’s jobs on the line — if we’re gonna be three teams or four teams — so the sooner the better. I understand contract negotiations take a long time and there is a lot to them, but truly if you know or you’ve made a decision, then it’s time to give everybody enough opportunity to make their decision on the back side of that.”
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon says he’s “not surprised” at Edwards’ lengthy negotiating strategy.
“I spoke to Carl years ago when he stayed with Roush,” Gordon said with a smile. “We talked to him, as he talked to every team. I saw his negotiating tactics at that time. It’s not surprising to me.”
While Gordon has been a lifer at Hendrick Motorsports since 1992, he’s seen the toll a lame-duck driver situation can take on a team. Although Gordon believes the rest of the garage has caught up to the level that Roush Fenway Racing started the season at, the possibility of Edwards leaving the company at the end of the year could be devastating to any title hopes.
“Whether or not he’s staying or going, it’s a big distraction, a lot on his mind,” Gordon said. “It’s unfortunate in some ways because I think this is the best year I’ve seen Carl have with a team and a car capable of winning the championship, if those things are all playing out … Let’s say he’s going somewhere else, they’re done. I just don’t see them winning the championship knowing that they’re leaving.
“I might be wrong. But if he stays, it might have just been a blip and then get back on track. So I think that’s definitely playing a factor. I’m not saying that just for Carl. It would with anybody. Anybody that’s going through a contract renegotiation year, things are up in the air, it’s always going to be a distraction.”
Kasey Kahne was far from being a championship contender last year at Richard Petty Motorsports. But he found out first-hand how it felt to be a driver on the move. Once Kahne announced he was leaving the company and heading for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, Kahne says the tenor of the company’s attitude toward him changed.
Kahne said Edwards and Roush were in a much better position to win a championship than Kahne was when he was in a similar situation last year.
“It’s not bad as a driver,” Kahne said. “It’s what they give to you (equipment). It’s what (the) Pettys gave to me last year when I was in that situation. They didn’t give me (expletive). They were difficult to work with. … At that point, that was the hard part. He’s not going to have that with Roush though. I think that Roush is in a much better position to hopefully look at it as ‘we can still win a championship this year. We‘ll do all we can with Carl.’
“I didn’t have that. It didn’t work that way for me. But hopefully, it’s different for Carl because he’s done a great job for Roush. He’s signed up with them through this year and they should take care of him this year and he should drive the way he drives every week.”
Conditions became so tense for Kahne that he left the No. 9 team with five races remaining in the season.
For drivers that commit to long-term situations with one team, success seems to follow. That’s been the case for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. Consistency seems to follow racers that continue to build on a solid foundation.
“It’s been very comforting to know you’re in a secure position, where you want to be, you don’t want to go anywhere else, it allows those discussions to take place without really distracting you because they’re really pretty easy decisions,” Gordon said. “It allows you to just stay focused on your team, what you’re doing as a driver.”