Carl Edwards can stay at Roush Fenway Racing or he can move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2012. They're both great options, offering lucrative compensation and Sprint Cup championship-caliber operations. Edwards will make his decision based upon the team he believes will provide the best opportunity to win races and championships and therein lies the dilemma of a lifetime.
Edwards undoubtedly thought he'd win a championship when he signed a three-year extension with Roush Fenway in May 2008. He went on to have his best Cup season that year, nine wins and second in the championship, but he didn't win a race the following season. Edwards had two wins late last season and he's been very strong this year, winning once and leading the points for more than half the season before dropping to second last week.
Advantage Roush Fenway, right? Why think about leaving when the team is on the upswing? Edwards has been in Cup since the second half of 2004 and he understands the cyclical nature of the equipment. Edwards won four races in 2005 and none in 2006, so a big season has been followed by a winless year twice. The development process is constant and what you have today may not be the best next week. Next year is even more difficult to predict.
Edwards enjoys working with crew chief Bob Osborne and there's also the loyalty factor. Jack Roush gave Edwards tremendous opportunities twice, in 2003 in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series and as Jeff Burton's replacement in Cup in 2004. Edwards has paid Roush back with 19 wins. It's sufficient success for Edwards to consider his debt of gratitude paid to Roush.
Roush Fenway is scrambling for sponsors. Aflac hasn't re-signed to back Edwards, probably because Roush Fenway hasn't been able to guarantee Edwards will be in the No. 99. RFR is also looking for a replacement for Matt Kenseth following Crown Royal's decision to depart following this season. UPS was thinking about jumping to Edwards next season if he was at RFR, but David Ragan's victory at Daytona has apparently solidified that relationship. Following his win, UPS immediately issued a vote of confidence in Ragan.
Finding sponsors to support Edwards will not be a problem for Roush Fenway. It is Ford's flagship team and they would step in to help secure Edwards. Beyond the fact he wins races, Edwards is easy to work with, likable and charismatic. He's a sponsor's dream. Everything would fall into place quickly if Edwards would put his name on a contract.
The question is, why hasn't he? Edwards, remember, signed in May in 2008 and he could have put his future behind him and concentrated completely on 2011 months ago. The answer is Edwards wants to take a long, hard look at Gibbs, who multiple sources say are pursuing him. Toyota figures to be a big part of the chase.
Toyota has a history of writing checks to secure top talent. It struggled during early seasons in CART's Champ Cars and wrote a check for $10 million (plus free engines) to Chip Ganassi to switch from Honda in 2000. Ganassi's team had won four straight CART championships and it delivered Toyota's first win with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000.
When it entered Cup in 2007, Toyota had an awful season. It paid Gibbs $25 million to leave Chevrolet, and in 2008 they won 10 races and had Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart in the Chase.
It seems likely Edwards would be a fourth car at Gibbs with a new sponsor and subsidized by Toyota, which is still pursuing its first championship. It would give Gibbs and Toyota a dynamic driver lineup of 26-year-old Busch, 30-year-old Hamlin, 31-year-old Edwards and 21-year-old Joey Logano, who the team and manufacturer expect to emerge as a star.
There have been rumors about Logano being in trouble at Gibbs and Home Depot wanting to replace him with Edwards. Those rumors seem false. Home Depot has invested in Logano for three seasons, developing what marketers call "brand equity," and they don't want him to get away just when he's on the verge of winning races.
Edwards has been quiet about his plans for 2012.
"The thing I am going to do is keep working on it and working on it privately," he said a couple of weeks ago. "I think that is the best way for me."
Roush Fenway or Gibbs? Ford or Toyota? Osborne or a new crew chief? Edwards has exceptional, but difficult choices to make in considering his future in Sprint Cup.
My guess is he's leaning toward Gibbs. He's in his eighth season at Roush Fenway and hasn't won a championship. There are also those peaks and valleys at Roush Fenway to put into the thought process. Edwards may believe changing organizations is necessary to get him to where he wants to go.