Jul 28, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
In two of the last three years, some member or partner of a prominent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team was set for a departure at year’s end – and yet that prominent team still went onto win the series championship in the Chase.
It all depends on how they handle their impending breakup down the stretch.
First, the recent history:
In 2011, Tony Stewart informed Darian Grubb his crew chief services would no longer be needed at the end of the season. Then Stewart, who’d gone winless in the opening 26 “regular season” races and barely made the Chase, then went on a hot streak of posting five wins in the 10-race playoff – thanks in part to some key calls by Grubb – as the pair bagged the title.
In 2012, Team Penske announced it would leave Dodge for Ford for 2013 – with Dodge then essentially being resigned to the scrap heap on the Cup level at year’s end. No matter – Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe were dynamite for most of the season, particularly the second half from about July, as they swept through to their first title together and Roger Penske’s first at the Cup level.
Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing announced they’d be parting ways at the end of 2013, but Harvick was still won four races – two in the Chase – and finished third in points in a full-press, rather than lame-duck finish to the end of their 13-year tenure together at the Cup level.
This now brings us to Edwards and RFR, who have still run decently at times this year and already bagged two wins in the first 20 races – same as Harvick had in the same time frame a year ago.
While Edwards said in a brief interview Sunday before the Brickyard 400 that the timing of this announcement by RFR was unfortunate, it should not distract from the goal at hand for the rest of 2014: namely, winning more races and then advancing through the stages of the new-for-2014 knockout Chase format.
Frankly, he’s the only guy with a shot to do it for Roush Fenway, a team which has steadily fallen from the ranks of the elite on the Cup level over the last few years and could use one final shot in the arm before entering a “rebuilding” phase with Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne in 2015..
Biffle sits 17th in points, only nine points behind Austin Dillon in 14th, who currently holds the last spot on the Chase grid coming out of the Brickyard. But Biffle will need a win at this juncture – likely at his and Roush’s usual stronghold facility of Michigan International Speedway next month – if he is to have a shot at making the Chase himself. Meanwhile Stenhouse Jr. has regressed in 2014 and ranks 27th in points.
Edwards will rise or fall in the Chase depending on his and his No. 99 team’s mindset these final 16 races together, the six leading into the Chase and the 10 Chase races themselves.
There has to be a certain level of frustration with the way the last few weeks, heck, few months, have played out as the will he-won’t he saga of leaving has played out in the media. Certainly Edwards would want to shift the focus and attention back to his on-track efforts rather than the soap opera of sorting out his future.
And there also has to be a level of wanting to end on a high note. Roush nurtured and developed Edwards from his time in the Camping World Truck Series, his time winning a wealth of Nationwide Series races before that stopped, and has molded him into the lead driver on the Cup side as veterans Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch have all gone their separate ways. You’d think, in theory anyway, Edwards would want to repay “the cat in the hat” with a title.
Edwards lost that 2011 title to Stewart on a tiebreaker – the closest he’s ever come to a Cup title and the closest Roush has come since winning the inaugural Chase, with Busch, in 2004.
Edwards has had that near top-level career in Cup without a top-level achievement – a Sprint Cup title. He’s in his last few months of the known, the comfort level that comes with being part of an organization for more than a dozen years through three series in NASCAR and a full decade at the top level itself. Wherever his next stop is (likely Joe Gibbs Racing), Edwards will need to develop a new chemistry with his new team, and that process takes time.
He has the potential to raise the collective game of the No. 99 group knowing this will be its last ride as a unit, or fall into the abyss of apathy over the second half of the season while thinking only of what’s next.
He may be leaving, but it would be great to see him end with a flourish rather than a whimper.
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