It’s official, Carl Edwards will leave Roush Fenway Racing at season’s end to drive a new, No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.
Since making his Cup Series debut in the No. 99 Green Lantern Ford at Michigan International Raceway on August 22, 2004, Edwards has driven for just one car owner; Jack Roush. Together, the pair amassed five Top-10 finishes in the championship standings, highlighted by a 2011 season that saw them emerge from the season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway in a dead-heat tie with Tony Stewart, only to lose the title on a tiebreaker.
It hasn’t all been grits and gravy, however. Roush Fenway has suffered through some lengthy competitive droughts during that 10-year run, leaving Edwards 12th in the 2006 standings, 11th in 2009, 15th in 2012 and 13th last season. Edwards has a pair of wins this year – at Bristol and Sonoma – but continuing technological challenges have him no better than ninth in points at present; by his own admission a longshot for the 2014 championship.
While today’s media announcement at Joe Gibbs Racing was dominated by happy, smiling faces, not everyone is pleased with Edwards’ decision to change teams at season’s end. Some observers see the Missouri native’s decision as disloyal to Jack Roush; the man who gave Edwards his first shot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and who also – just three years ago – broke the bank to retain him as the lead horse in Ford Motor Company’s NASCAR draft.
Others cannot shake their distaste for Toyota, emphasizing the company’s Japanese ownership while ignoring the fact that the automaker – like its competitors at GM and Ford -- builds millions of cars and components in the United States. One overwrought caller to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio recently compared Edwards’ departure (at that point only a rumor) to “standing on the deck of the battleship Arizona, waving the Japanese flag as the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.”
It’s impossible to reason with that degree of nationalistic nuttiness, but sadly, it’s out there.
Loyalty gets a lot of lip service in professional sports today, but as the saying goes, “Talk is cheap.” In fact, there’s really no such thing as loyalty. And that’s okay by me.
As a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox, I’ve seen more than a few beloved Beantowners jump ship for a fatter paycheck with New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s signature at the bottom. Beginning with Babe Ruth (slightly before my time) and continuing through Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury, I have seen quality players spurn the Olde Towne team -- over and over again -- in favor of the almighty dollar. And while I never liked it, I always understood it.
Johnny Damon owed nothing to the Boston Red Sox. They offered him a lucrative contract to play baseball at the very highest level, and he did so with great distinction. Likewise, Jack Roush gave Carl Edwards an opportunity to race at NASCAR’s highest level, while enriching his bank account substantially. Like Damon, Edwards made the most of that opportunity.
Over the years, both Damon and Edwards played their guts out for their respective team owners, establishing themselves as All-Star talents and either winning (Damon) or contending mightily (Edwards) for championships. That’s all anyone could reasonably have asked.
Loyalty – or the lack thereof – also works both ways.
When Jack Roush needed to make room for an up-and-coming, ridiculously talented youngster named Edwards midway through the 2004 season, veteran Jeff Burton was aggressively encouraged to vacate the No. 99 Ford and move along to a new ride with Richard Childress Racing. Edwards, meanwhile, was installed as RFR’s new driver, in Week 23 of a 36-race season.
Edwards and Roush have one thing in common, and that’s a responsibility to look out for their own best interest. Edwards is entitled to change teams in 2015 if he chooses, going where the cars and the money are best, especially if there is no reasonable light at the end of RFR’s competitive tunnel. He gave Roush Fenway Racing his level best for a decade, serving as an impeccable spokesman for his team, his sponsors and his manufacturers.
Now, it’s time to embark on a new adventure with a new race team, and there is every reason to believe that Edwards will tackle that adventure with the same enthusiasm, determination and talent that characterized his time with RFR.