Edwards’ value keeps increasing

After signing NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards in 2008, team owner Jack Roush told insiders he wouldn’t break the bank on the next contract.

If he’s worried about the future of Roush Fenway Racing, the team owner had better rethink that strategy.

Edwards, NASCAR’s newest million-dollar man after winning Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race, is one of the hottest commodities in the sport. He currently leads the Sprint Cup points standings by 24 points over Jimmie Johnson.

And he will be a free agent when his contract ends this season. 

Certainly, Edwards’ value to Roush Fenway is not lost on the owner. In 24 years of competing in NASCAR, Roush has had his share phenomenal racers. But he’s never had a talent with the potential to build an iconic brand such as he has with the driver of the No. 99 Ford.

“Carl is a rock star,” Roush said after the win. “He’s the only backflipper in the field and was the first one to crawl up in the stands. Some of the drivers wouldn’t go up in the stands like that after a race, and for good reason, but Carl is well thought of and he’s out there doing things that other people wish they had thought of first, and he drives the hell out of our race cars. He is a cornerstone of our organization today. He is certainly a draw for sponsors, and he’s a rallying point for his team.

“All the guys that work on all these cars that don’t get to go to the racetrack will be able to stand a little straighter on Monday because Carl won here . . . but Carl has been a factor at nearly all the races.”

From a performance standpoint, Edwards’ overall results are impressive. In his seventh full season on the Sprint Cup tour, Edwards has amassed 19 career wins and finished 12th or better in the standings every year. His best season to date was in 2008, when he earned nine wins, 19 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes en route to a second-place finish in the final standings behind Jimmie Johnson.

However, the following season the company fell off course, starting a stretch in which Edwards went without a victory for 70 races. He closed out last season by sweeping the final events at Phoenix and Homestead, and in 2011, he has remained in championship form.

For the past five races — and for seven of the past 11 events — Edwards has been the points leader. Edwards won at Las Vegas and had race-contending cars all season long. He’s led laps in each race except those at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway.

On the business side of the Edwards equation, the driver is a sponsor’s dream. His athletic/family man image translates well with a variety of demographics, and any company would benefit from an association with Edwards’ brand.

It’s no wonder that of all the rides to come available over the past two seasons, Edwards’ name has been mentioned as a possible candidate. But ask the driver about his future plans and there’s just one thing on his mind — winning a championship.

“All I’ll say about (our contract talks) is we’re running really well right now and it’s because of Jack Roush and Ford and all these people’s hard work, and those talks are going on behind closed doors,” Edwards said Saturday. “We’ll hopefully get something done, but right now we’re running well and that is fun, and what I’m trying to do is focus on that because we have a championship to win this year. That’s the No. 1 goal.”

Roush’s sentiments mirror his driver’s.

“I think Carl said it best,” Roush said. “We’re trying to maintain the focus on keeping our season together. We want to put ourselves in the best situation we can to make a championship run, to be in the top 10 and then to make a championship run in the closing months of the year.

“It’s going on behind closed doors. With some accuracy I say I really don’t do the money and I try to stay out of the money part of it, but I will have to pay attention to this deal as it gets closer, but it’s not something we’re gonna debate or discuss in the public. It’s not a media issue, it’s a private business issue that’s ongoing.”

Behind closed doors, however, there has been concern as to whether Edwards will remain with the company that offered him that first opportunity or if he will he seek a ride elsewhere. Organizations such as Joe Gibbs Racing, Red Bull Racing and Penske Racing have all been mentioned as possibilities and teams with the pockets to entice Edwards.

Racing is cyclical. Yes, Roush has struggled in the past, but throughout its history it remains one of the top companies in NASCAR. If Edwards has his intermediate-track program dialed in this solidly in May — as he showed Saturday night when Kyle Busch radioed his amazement of what Edwards was doing through the corners — he’ll smoke the competition come the title-deciding Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“This is the first time I’ve come here and run like this, so it’s huge for me,” Edwards said. “If you look at our whole season, we’ve run really well at almost every racetrack. It’s been a really good season and that’s because of Jack and (Roush Fenway Racing general manager) Robbie Reiser and all the guys back at the shop working so hard to get everything in order.”

Edwards has insisted since the contract talks began that his No. 1 goal is to win titles. Considering that Edwards has the best equipment in the sport right now, Roush has delivered for the driver. However, if the only thing standing between Edwards and the door is salary, it would be in Jack’s best interest to get out the checkbook.

Yes, there are a lot of great kids coming up the pike, but there’s only one Carl Edwards.