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NSCS: Did Carl Edwards Make The Right Decision?

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — The worst kept secret in NASCAR finally became official on Tuesday. Carl Edwards will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.

On the surface it looks like a great deal all the way around. Carl Edwards moves to a team that has been a championship contender since the late 1990s. Joe Gibbs Racing gains a championship-caliber driver to field a fourth full-time car with. And ARRIS — a brand new sponsor in the NASCAR world — gains instant credibility among race fans. All-in-all this now should make JGR a formidable dream team of sorts. Their Sprint Cup Series driver roster for 2015 now includes: Denny Hamlin, 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and now Edwards.

“For me personally, one of the biggest reasons I started racing is because of how much fun it was, and all the pressure, learning new things, the adventure of it, and for me … I woke up this morning, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” said Edwards during Tuesday’s press conference, “I figured if an opportunity like that comes along in your life, I didn’t want to ever look back and say, ‘Boy, I wish I’d done that.’ It just felt right to me.”

For whatever reason though, I’m still not sold that this move was the correct one for Carl Edwards’ future.

While racing at Roush Fenway Racing in the Sprint Cup Series since 2005, Edwards has enjoyed his fair share of success. He has racked up 23 victories, and he has finished second in the championship standings twice (2008 and 2011). The runner-up effort in 2011, Edwards actually tied Tony Stewart for the points lead after the final race of the season, but ultimately lost out on a tiebreaker based on wins throughout the year.

Since that 2011 season things have spiraled out of control at Roush Fenway Racing, and lately drivers, sponsors and on-track performance have been falling by the wayside.

The thing that probably sealed the deal of going to JGR for Edwards in his own mind was watching his former, and once again, teammate Matt Kenseth put up seven wins in the 2013 campaign after swapping from Roush Fenway Racing to go to the Toyota powered team. Kenseth had a career year last year, and finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in the championship standings in his first season in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. 23 races into the 2014 season though, tells a completely different tale.

Kenseth still has yet to reach victory lane in his No. 20 car this season, and he is clawing just to make it into the Chase. Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has a grand-total of two wins from it’s three superstar drivers this year. Edwards alone has two wins this year with the much-maligned Roush Fenway Racing team. The grass may not actually be greener on the other side of the fence.

The reason for JGR’s recent struggles seem to be resting solely on their motors which come from Toyota Racing Development. Last week Denny Hamlin showed his frustration for his team’s power plants after the Pure Michigan 400.

“We’re trying to make the best we can do, (we’re) down 50 horsepower. We can’t just accelerate down the straightaway like them,” a disgusted Hamlin said.

Being down on horsepower is not a problem that teams wanting to win a championship can afford to have. Toyota Racing Development has ensured that upgrades are coming to the Toyota Sprint Cup Series motors in the coming weeks, but that in itself can be worrisome. The manufacturer pushed the envelope with their power last season, and as a result numerous power plants detonated far before the race was over each week.

Kenseth had two engine failures in 2013, Busch also had two and Hamlin had three. That’s seven engine failures just last season. Roush Fenway Racing in contrast has had a total of just seven engine failures since the 31st race of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Also what’s interesting is that no driver currently on the Joe Gibbs Racing roster has actually won a championship while racing for the team. Kenseth’s championship in 2003 actually came while driving for Roush Fenway Racing. For those saying, ‘yeah but, Joe Gibbs Racing contends for championships more freuqently than Roush Fenway Racing,’ neither JGR or RFR has hoisted a Sprint Cup Series championship since 2005 — a decade ago next year.

Another thing that has me uneasy about this whole situation, is that we have no idea who Carl Edwards will have atop the pit box for next year. The only hint we were given Tuesday, was that it will more than likely be an in-house employee. For a driver who has been used to working with one of the most experienced crew chiefs in the business — Jimmy Fennig — working with a young inexperienced crew chief could pose a potential issue.

If the duo take too long to gel, Edwards’ first season with Joe Gibbs Racing could be in the dumps before it even really gets going. If he stumbles for the first couple of years, much like Dale Earnhardt Jr. did at Hendrick Motorsports, I foresee a scenario where Edwards could be on the outside looking for a job, as Daniel Suarez is coming up the pike. Suarez is backed by the same sponsor — ARRIS — that is backing Edwards’ foray at JGR, and they are aligned with Escuderia TELMEX and are working with Joe Gibbs Racing on a diversity development program for latino drivers.

Obviously ideally ARRIS’ long-term goal would have to be to get Suarez into the Cup Series with their colors on the car, but who will it be at the expense of now that Gibbs has four full-time race teams? It may very well end up being Edwards.

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About Toby Christie

Toby Christie is the Senior Writer for Rubbings Racing. He has been watching NASCAR since 1993, and has covered the sport as a media member since 2007. Toby is a proud member of the NMPA. Additionally, Toby is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan, subpar guitarist and he is pretty good around a mini-golf course.

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