Edwards says Roush offers best chance at Cup title

The one phone call from his boss that meant the most to Carl

Edwards wasn’t a pitch to stay at Roush Fenway Racing.

Jack Roush simply told his star driver – and the hottest free

agent in NASCAR – to make the decision based on what was best for

Edwards.

”He said those words to me, and that meant the world,” Edwards

said Friday at Pocono Raceway. ”It meant that I didn’t have the

pressure to do something for any reason other than what I thought

was best.”

In the end, Edwards decided what was best was sticking with the

only organization he’s called home in his Cup career. Edwards

signed a multi-year contract extension with RFR this week because

he believed the resources, sponsors, crew and car give him the best

chance to win championships.

”Whenever I’d start feeling that pressure start creeping in

from the outside I’d think, `OK, let’s get back to the basics

here,”’ he said. ”Where can I win the most championships? And

what would I do if other people’s opinions weren’t a factor?”

There were plenty of opinions around the garage from fellow

drivers to the media speculating on his future. Greg Biffle, his

teammate, intimated Edwards was leaving the organization. Four-time

Cup champion Jeff Gordon said lingering contract negotiations were

a distraction to Edwards as he chased his first career

championship. Edwards enters Sunday’s Sprint Cup race in first

place, a spot he’s held in the No. 99 Ford for the majority of the

season.

”I still think it got them a little bit behind, but this will

allow them to get back on track,” Gordon said. ”I never

considered them a non-threat. Carl’s a great driver and that team’s

a very good team. There’s no doubt those talks and that constant

barrage of questions is hard to get past until you get

settled.”

Edwards, who acted as his own agent, said the end of

negotiations were a big relief. He kept details private, though he

was courted by Joe Gibbs Racing, and insisted money was not an

issue. Hard to believe, but Roush said money was never discussed.

Edwards had more pressing questions about how the organization is

run and what’s ahead for his team.

Roush did the equivalent of opening the books, letting Edwards

in on the secrets of every nook of the organization.

”If Carl had made the decision not to come back, I was going to

feel really stupid for having shown him all these things,” Roush

said.

Edwards refused to say how close he was to signing with another

team or how many teams showed interest. Once Edwards was back in

the fold, Roush started sponsorship discussions for the No. 99, and

he said there’s no shortage of interested suitors. Roush said the

company will be ”just fine” running four cars.

RFR also has Matt Kenseth and David Ragan under contract.

Edwards’ contract means other free agents can start seriously

considering their options for 2012 and beyond. Clint Bowyer

(Richard Childress Racing), Juan Pablo Montoya (Earnhardt Ganassi

Racing) and Brian Vickers (Red Bull Racing) are the three top free

agents available, and interest is about to pick up.

Vickers needed a seat once Red Bull announced it will leave

NASCAR at the end of the season. Bowyer said Friday he’s close to

re-signing with RCR.

”I feel like we’re getting close and we’re working on it, and

hopefully we’ll have that done,” Bowyer said.

Also affected was JGR driver Joey Logano, who likely would have

lost his ride in the No. 20 had Edwards come aboard. JGR star Denny

Hamlin made it seem like a deal with Edwards was not as close as it

appeared.

He asked owner Joe Gibbs to tell him when a deal was close.

Gibbs told him, ”If it ever got to that point, I would let you

know first.”

Hamlin never heard a peep.

”So I knew that it never really had gotten very far along, I

don’t believe,” Hamlin said. ”Whether his intentions really were

to leave or not, it’s tough to say.”

Edwards has been with Roush since 2002, when the team gave him

his break in NASCAR. It came in the Trucks Series, but Edwards was

in Cup by 2004 as a late-season replacement for Jeff Burton.

He was a four-time Cup winner the next season and a bona fide

NASCAR star, backflipping off the winning car in celebration of

each victory.

Edwards’ best season was 2008, when he won a series-high nine

races and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the championship

race.

It’s the team he wanted to call home should he ever hoist that

championship trophy. With the sparkling results he’s had this

season, there was little reason for Edwards to bolt.

”We don’t have a weakness, and that’s the thing that makes me

feel really good about our prospects going forward,” Roush said.

”We don’t have anything glaring that is deficient.”

Bold words from the long-time owner. Edwards is confident he can

back up the boasts with the best finish of his career.

”I’m really proud of the fact that we went through all of this,

and we’re leading the points,” Edwards said. ”We haven’t missed a

beat, and we’re able to keep digging.”