Playing catch-up: Edwards, Roush Fenway seeking to regain edge
MAY 16, 2014 7:52p ET
There was a time not so long ago when Carl Edwards was one of the drivers to beat just about every time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series showed up at an intermediate track.
Those days seem long gone now, but will Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race at 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway bring a return?
Edwards obviously hopes so, but he'll be the first person to admit that he lacks the confidence he once brought to the 1.5- and 2-mile venues where he often punished the competition from 2005-2011.
"I don't think my personal confidence level has changed. My level of confidence in my ability to win these races has definitely changed," Edwards said on Friday at CMS. "It's nice to show up and know in practice you're the fastest car and in qualifying, if you don't screw it up, you can get the pole, and then in the race be dominant the whole time. I think as a group, Roush Fenway Racing, we've all struggled.
"We've recognized it. We've talked about it a lot, and you saw a really big change this week within our engineering structure that hopefully is a step in the right direction. It's a big change and anything can happen."
The big change to which Edwards referred is the defection of long-time Roush Fenway engineer Chip Bolin, who was released by the organization on Thursday after 16 years.
Bolin, who joined the company in 1998, played an instrumental role in Matt Kenseth's 2003 championship for RFR, and later served as Kenseth's crew chief.
Bolin's departure is believed to possibly be the start of a major shakeup within the organization, which won its last championship in 2004 with Kurt Busch and last year failed to put one of its drivers in the top five in points.
"I do want to say thank you to Chip and everything he's done for this company," Edwards said. "All of those wins that I've had and the dominating time (at the intermediate tracks) was with Chip on board, so it's a big decision for Jack (Roush, team co-owner) and for Roush Fenway Racing, but we all want to be better at these tracks."
Was Edwards surprised to see Bolin let go?
"I don't know," said the driver of the No. 99 Ford. "I guess the way I'd answer that is I wouldn't be surprised about anything right now because we've got to shake things up, we've got to try different things. I hope it's the right thing. Chip has given so much to this company I hope that it's an opportunity for Roush Fenway Racing to get better, so, yeah, I guess we're wiling to try just about anything and I think the magnitude of that change shows how much as a company, (RFR vice president of competition) Robbie Reiser, Jack Roush, everyone is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to try to figure this out."
Since scoring a victory at 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2011, Edwards has only three wins -- and none have come on tracks longer than a mile. The one notable caveat to that statistic: Edwards won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte, the series' most tradition-rich mile-and-a-half track, in May 2011.
So it is with cautious optimism that Edwards enters Saturday night's 90-lap exhibition at CMS, where the race winner will walk away with a $1 million payday.
"We come here to win the race," Edwards said. "We've got no pressure to do anything other than to win the race and have some fun, so this will be a good time."
Edwards -- who is in a contract year with Roush Fenway -- readily concedes there is work to be done, however.
"I'll use the term that Chip talks about," said Edwards, who sits fifth in points with one win -- at Bristol -- in the season's first 11 races. "He says we've got to stack pennies. It's not like you're gonna go out there and find something that's just this huge windfall change, so it's small things -- maybe it's as simple as chemistry between people and maybe that would create an environment that's more fertile for new ideas and innovation and progress.
"Right now in this sport it's very small things. One small amount of grip in the corner at these speeds makes a lot of time on the stopwatch, so I hope we're doing the right things, and I look forward to it."