CUP: The Long Slide Home

It’s not like Carl Edwards wasn’t warned.

So many said, “Hey, dude, watch out for the hangover.”

Denny Hamlin was the most recent example of the phenomenon. He finished a close second to Jimmie Johnson in the race for the Sprint Cup championship in 2010 then plunged into a hole the next season. In 2010, he had eight wins and 14 top fives. The next season, those totals dropped dramatically to one win and 5 top fives. And Hamlin finished ninth in points.

Last season, Edwards lost the championship to Tony Stewart in the closest of all possible races – on a tiebreaker. This year, the bottom fell out. He has no wins and won’t be a part of the Chase. Last year he had 19 top fives and 26 top 10s; this year to date he has only two top fives and 11 top 10s.

The results might not have been the effects of the so-called hangover; nevertheless, it has been a wickedly bad season for one of the sport’s top drivers, even with a mid-season crew chief swap that put Chad Norris in charge of a team formerly led by Bob Osborne.

Now Edwards faces an uncertain future. He’s re-upped with Roush Fenway Racing, but now – at least for the immediate future – he sits in the shadow of teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, who will be racing for the championship.

The No. 99 team faces some key rebuilding work over the remainder of this season and into the winter months, even as all organizations in Sprint Cup continue work on new 2013 cars.

It seems safe to say there will be changes at the core of the team for the new year.

Will Norris return as crew chief? He had only a few short weeks to show his strengths – and under dire circumstances – after replacing Osborne in mid-July with Edwards fighting to make the Chase.

Osborne, who said he was wrestling with unspecified health issues, was moved elsewhere in the RFR organization. He had led Edwards to 18 Sprint Cup wins and to the very brink of the championship last year.

RFR is deep in talent, and wholesale changes similar to those that turned around Biffle’s team this year always are a possibility, although Norris really hasn’t had enough time to put his stamp on the team.

Team co-owner Jack Roush might look at the remaining 10 races this year as a proving ground for Edwards and those around him before outlining the team’s status for next season.

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.