|Is Edwards the new Candy Man?|
The deal makes perfect sense, for a number of reasons.
At age 34, Edwards is hardly long in the tooth as NASCAR drivers go. However, statistics show that racers tend to peak in their early 30s, meaning that the Missouri native’s best years could already be behind him.
Roush Fenway Racing is in the midst of a severe competitive spiral, their second such downturn in the last six years. Last time around, RFR and Ford Motor Company calmed Edwards’ contractual nerves with promises of improved performance and a generous weekly paycheck. After failing to follow through on those competitive promises last time around, Jack Roush is unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt from Edwards again.
|Unleash The Beast!|
From this vantage point, it is impossible to assess how long RFR may need to regain its competitive form. Those inside the walls, however, seem pessimistic about the team’s ability to become a title contender again, any time soon. Matt Kenseth bolted the RFR stable two years ago for a spot at Joe Gibbs Racing, promptly enjoying one of the best seasons of his NASCAR career. This year, both Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle have seriously investigated leaving the Roush fold, as well.
When the rats start jumping overboard, it’s generally a sign that the ship is taking on water, and nobody knows more about the state of affairs at Roush Fenway Racing than people like Kenseth, Edwards and Biffle, who enjoy an insider’s view. And while it appears that Biffle will re-sign with RFR after all, that decision is less an affirmation of Roush Fenway’s future than an admission that no better offers were available. Edwards has earned just three checkered flags in the last three seasons, and with no immediate improvement in sight, it is difficult to imagine him signing-on for more of the same.
When Edwards bolts the RFR camp – and he will -- there is only one logical destination; Joe Gibbs Racing. No other Ford team will poison its own well by poaching Edwards away, and a move to Richard Petty Motorsports or Michael Waltrip Racing would be lateral, at best.
JGR has said repeatedly in recent years that they will field a fourth when (and only when) the sponsorship becomes available. And with the possible addition of Monster Energy Drink to JGR’s Sprint Cup sponsor lineup, the backing in question could finally be at hand.
But why would Mars, Inc. – parent company of M&Ms – hitch their chocolate candy brand to the wagon of a well-known health nut like Edwards?
In a word, marketability.
Edwards has amassed 22 victories in 352 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, and ranks as one of the sport’s most visible, popular and successful drivers. He has four Top-5 finishes in the championship points -- including a pair of runner-up showings in 2008 and 2011 – and in `11, actually tied for the series championship, losing the title to Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker.
Busch has won 25 Sprint Cup races under the M&Ms banner, and is also one of the circuit’s most prolific winners. He is notorious, however, for wilting under the pressure of the postseason title chase; never finishing better than fourth in the championship standings and recording only two Top-5 point finishes in his 11-year career.
Perhaps more important, the Las Vegas native has a knack for generating negative publicity for both himself and his sponsors. In 2011, NASCAR took the unprecedented step of barring Busch from a Sunday Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, after the mercurial driver crashed former champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. under caution during that weekend’s Camping World Truck Series event. The crash ended Hornaday’s championship hopes, and prompted Mars to pull their sponsorship from Busch’s No. 18 Toyota for the final two races of the season.
Most sponsors shy away from that kind of unpleasantness. In Monster Energy Drink, however, Busch has found a backer that actually embraces his occasional bouts of “on the edge” behavior. Monster Energy’s prime demographic is the younger, flat-billed baseball gap crowd. Their current advertising slogan urges consumers to “Unleash The Beast,” and they not only understand the urge to buck authority from time to time, they identify with it. Rumors have circulated for months that Monster might be ready to upgrade its NASCAR program to the Sprint Cup level, but only with Busch as their driver.
Now, with a popular wheelman like Edwards available to carry the M&Ms colors, Joe Gibbs Racing may finally experience the perfect sponsorship storm.