CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Social media was abuzz all weekend as Carl Edwards celebrated his return to Kansas Speedway: Carl sat with the Joe Gibbs Racing at the driver meeting! Carl was flustered when asked if he can win a championship at Roush Fenway Racing!
Here we go again.
It's another contract year for Edwards, and everybody is talking about his future. Well, everybody except Edwards.
When Clint Bowyer removed himself from the free agent market last week by re-signing with Michael Waltrip Racing, attention turned to Edwards, the top available driver. The gossip and speculation is nearing a fevered pitch, and all signs point to Edwards ending his 12-year run with Roush to move into a fourth car with Gibbs.
It's a sensable move for Edwards, who was heavily courted by JGR in 2011 as he found himself in the hunt for his first Sprint Cup championship.
Edwards went back and forth, weighing both offers, dragging the process deep into the summer. It was practically unheard of for a points leader to consider leaving for another team while also racing for the title, but Edwards looked beyond the moment.
He rides a performance roller-coaster at Roush, where one season could produce multiple wins and a solid run at the title, only to go winless the next year and watch the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship from the sidelines.
That's not changed since Edwards scored a huge payday — thanks to a big assist from Ford Motor Co. — by signing a three-year extension that year. He went on to lose the 2011 title to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker and hasn't been a threat since. Edwards went winless in 2012 and missed the Chase, and although he made two trips to Victory Lane last season, he finished last in the 13-driver Chase field.
Now it's time for Edwards to negotiate a new contract. It comes as he sits fifth in the standings with a win at Bristol that should be good enough to lock him into NASCAR's championship field.
Good enough to make a case for staying at Roush, right?
Not if he's again using a wide lens to look at his options. Edwards should see clearly that he's got just 14 top-five finishes since 2011, when he had 19 in one season. That JGR grass has to look a whole lot greener right now, especially after Matt Kenseth bolted Roush last season and racked up seven wins, 12 top-fives and raced Jimmie Johnson to the finale for the championship.
Of course he's going to JGR!
Or is he?
Remember, many though an Edwards deal to Gibbs in 2011 was a sure thing. But for whatever reason — maybe things fell apart at JGR, maybe the Ford financial aid swayed Edwards' decision — he returned to Roush.
It means his next move is a mystery in part because Edwards likes to leave people guessing in this process, and that includes his bosses at Roush.
Jack Roush and team president Steve Newmark hear the same gossip in the garage and wonder what is going on. Edwards, who acts as his own agent, allows it to continue.
Only Edwards knows what he wants to do next year, and he isn't saying.
"You guys know that I don't like to talk about that stuff in the media," Edwards told reporters at Kansas. "To me, that is business and I have made the mistake of letting that turn into a big media thing before, so I would rather not talk about that and keep that between me and Jack and Steve Newmark."
Their hands are tied at Roush as they wait for Edwards. If they knew he was leaving, they could have made a run at Bowyer as Edwards' replacement. Now Bowyer is off the market, and the next best available driver is Greg Biffle, who already drives for Roush and the team is actively trying to re-sign.
The free agent market is thin after Biffle. Very thin. And if Edwards bolts, there isn't an A-league driver to replace him.
So if Roush management is anything like the fans, they must be fretting after Edwards stumbled through an answer Saturday night when asked by Darrell Waltrip if he can win a championship with the organization.
"It's been 10 years and really, overall, that's my goal. I believe if I work hard enough and Roush works hard enough, I believe we can do it," he said. "There's not a better year than this year with Jimmy Fennig, the Chase format, and finishing Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead. So yes, I know we can and we have to do it this year. We've just got to keep digging."
For some reason, Edwards twice said a championship at Roush has to be won this year.
Why? Only he knows. And Edwards is letting everybody guess.
Follow Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JennaFryer