Carl Edwards made the most difficult decision of his NASCAR career Thursday, deciding to remain at Roush Fenway Racing with a multi-year agreement beginning in 2012.
Edwards was the most coveted Sprint Cup free agent since Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to leave DEI during the 2007 season. Terms of Edwards' base compensation with Roush Fenway weren't disclosed, but he's certainly going to be one of the highest paid drivers for the length of the contract -- probably averaging about $10 million per season plus purse money and bonus incentives.
Joe Gibbs Racing, with substantial financial support from Toyota, had made a similarly lucrative offer to Edwards several months ago. Edwards wanted to give Roush Fenway and Ford an opportunity to match it. At the Brickyard, Ford went public with its intention to get directly involved and a deal was reached in less than a week. It's not a coincidence. There weren't any sponsors connected to Edwards' deal in the statement. Ford played the major role in providing the resources to keep Edwards.
This decision wasn't strictly about money, but Edwards undoubtedly did view it as a measure of his worth. He wanted Ford to value him as much as Toyota and it did.
Edwards' desire to remain with crew chief Bob Osborne was a primary reason to stay at Roush Fenway. Osborne was Edwards' original crew chief at RFR and they were separated -- a decision by team owner Jack Roush that Edwards accepted but didn't like -- for part of the 2006 season.
Edwards won four races in his first full Cup campaign of 2005 and none in 2006. He was reunited with Osborne in 2007 and all of his 19 Cup victories have come with Osborne in his ear.
Osborne was a certainty while a move to Gibbs represented uncharted waters. There were questions that could only be answered by being inside Gibbs. What kind of teammates would Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano be? Could they work together? Would he and a new crew chief mesh?
Ultimately, Edwards' goal was to put himself in the best opportunity for future championships. He leads the points 20 races into this season, although he has only one victory. Re-signing with Roush Fenway at this time helps Edwards avoid lame duck status and enhances his chances of a title this year. Edwards understands that the competitiveness of equipment is cyclical. He won nine races in 2008, none in 2009 and went through nearly the entire season before winning the final two races last year. What he's got now is plenty good and it was another reason to stay.
Edwards will make his 250th career start at Pocono with the burden of making the decision lifted. It's undoubtedly a relief.
"I sincerely appreciate the amazing opportunity that Jack Roush has given me in this sport and am honored to race for him," Edwards said in a statement. "As an organization, Roush Fenway provides the resources I need to win, and as a driver, that's the most important thing. We're having a fun season on the racetrack as we're leading the points and in great position for the Chase. That's the result of a lot of hard work from the men and women at Roush Fenway, Ford Motor Company and Roush Yates Engines. I really enjoy competing with this group and looking forward to continuing that relationship into the future."
Ford invested in Edwards because he's the flagship driver on their flagship team. Ford hasn't won a Cup championship since 2004 with Roush Fenway's Kurt Busch.
"We are pleased with Carl's vote of confidence in Roush Fenway and Ford," Ford Racing Director Jamie Allison said. "This signals he believes he is with the right team and the right automaker to win races and championships. Now we can continue to focus on winning the 2011 championship."
The 31-year-old Edwards has driven for Roush Fenway since 2003. Roush spotted Edwards when he drove in seven races in the Truck series for low-budget Mittler Brothers Motorsports in 2002. Roush thought he had Kyle Busch lined up for the 2003 Truck season, but Busch bolted for Hendrick Motorsports a week before the season. Roush signed Edwards quickly and he went on to win three races and Rookie of the Year in the Trucks. Loyalty to the man who gave him his big break was at least a minor factor for Edwards.
"We saw great potential in Carl a decade ago, and it's been a thrill to watch him grow into one of the sports' premier drivers behind the wheel of the No. 99," Roush Fenway co-owner Roush said. "We didn't take our past success for granted when we sat down with Carl to talk about his future. As an organization, we approach each week with an intense focus on being successful in the race to come. Carl's position atop the points is a testament to that diligence."
Roush Fenway has a stable of quality drivers, including 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and David Ragan, who are all under contract for next season. But keeping Edwards was crucial for the organization. He's RFR's and Ford's best hope for a championship in this and future seasons.