Tuesday, August 19, 2014

COMMENTARY: Loyalty, Schmoyalty

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.

Loyalty, schmoyalty.

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.


  1. Anonymous5:30 PM

    The tiebreaker was in 2011.

  2. Anonymous5:35 PM

    Sorry Dave maybe you can edit it quickly, good post but the tie was in 2011

    1. I should never be allowed to multi-task. Thank you.

    2. Wow. Tough crowd Dave, tough crowd.

  3. Dave I fully agree with your commentary here. I seen the announcement & dont think ive ever seen Carl look so uncomfortable in front of the camera. He had that "deer in the headlights" look. Almost unsure whether this was the right decision or not. I wish him the best just hope its the "right" thing

  4. Anonymous6:11 PM

    I seriously can't blame him. Same way I felt when Kenseth left previously. RFR for whatever reason is missing a piece of the technology puzzle and until they get it figured out they will continue the slide toward being a 2nd tier team. Penske for sure has passed them at this point in the Ford stable. Just my 2 cents...

    1. Anonymous8:31 PM

      Roush used to be a multi-series team contending for championships in all of them. They have been imploding by firing their winning veteran drivers like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch. They probably could have had Kyle Busch as well. Focused on keeping Edwards and lost Kenseth and now Edwards for it.

  5. Anonymous6:14 PM

    Yeah,I can see Mr H telling Jeff...sorry bud but you got more good years behind you than in front so I am cancelling your lifetime contract to put Chase in the car next year. There is loyalty in sports Dave,it just comes from people with class.

  6. Anonymous7:04 PM

    Roush doesn't appear to hold loyalty as a value why should his drivers?

  7. Anonymous9:39 PM

    How about how Roush abandoned Mark Martin I always though, JMO, Roush should have let Martin run part time

  8. Anonymous2:31 AM

    Well maybe MR. "H" telling Jeff sorry won't come to it. as a poster stated. I am still trying to figure out what championship storyline Nascar likes best. Jeff Gordon winning deciding after another trophy that he is "done" and giving the Juniors HMS farm team prospect Chase the "official blessing" or Jr. finally getting his Cup trophy (like his Daddy, fans won't know the diff) due to Steve L. departure. These guys at Nascar are busier than a week at Ct. headquarters for Vince M.

  9. I seriously doubt that the Hendrick/Gordon relationship will end anytime soon, especially with Jeff's resurgence in 2014. Chase will end up driving for HMS sooner than later, but probably at Kasey Kane's expense in the #5 car.

    1. Anonymous8:25 PM

      I think Gordon wants to get one last championship and retire on top. Chase Elliott will replace him.

  10. Anonymous10:26 PM

    Dave, it's funny that you used the Red Sox analogy, I was thinking the same thing, Carl Yastrzemski stayed loyal to the team and the fans for his whole career. he had more than a few offers to make more money, he felt he owed Tom Yawkey for giving him his start.

    I think this is a big black eye for Jack Rousch and FORD....I'm not saying deserved, just has me wondering what Mark Martin, Matt & now Carl are running from....