August 7, 2011
By Kim Roberson
Jimmie Johnson’s hopes of going for six Sprint Cup Championships in a row might have dimmed a little this week.
That is because Carl Edwards signed his name on the dotted line, and ensured he got all the backing possible in his efforts to dethrone the reigning champ.
Edwards, who has been at the center of the debate of candidates who have a chance to become the first winner of the top title in NASCAR not named Johnson since 2006, solidified his place in the running this week when he re-signed with Roush-Fenway Racing (RFR) after weeks of speculation of where he would end up in 2012.
In the end, it was that ability to try and dethrone Johnson that was the deciding factor in whether to stay or go at RFR.
Edwards says he asked himself four questions in when thinking about his future. "What would I do if money weren't a factor? What would I do if I didn't care what one person thought about my decision? Where can I win the most championships? What would I do if other people's opinions weren't a factor?” he said during a press conference this week. "To me, this was really about where could I be the most successful? Where could I perform the best?"
For his part, team owner Jack Roush was willing to show Edwards everything RFR had in their arsenal, including the kitchen sink, in an effort to keep his top driver within the stable. "If Carl had made the decision not to come back, I was going to feel really stupid for having shown him all the things," Roush said during a meeting with the media this week. "We lined up every manager and every brilliant person we've got among the 416 (employees who work at RFR). I would feel horribly exposed if he had not come back."
Although Edwards says money didn’t play the top role in his decision, Ford Motor Company apparently wasn’t willing to take a chance that they would lose their top driver, reportedly offering Edwards stock in the company along with added personal services bonuses.
What makes this even more interesting is that Ford Stock was worth less than $5 a share during the chaos with the U.S. auto companies two years ago, but has rebounded to just over $10 as of market close Friday -- and is the strongest that it has been in over five years.
Edwards made it clear that although there have been a lot of reports that money and stock were thrown his way in an effort to help him make up his mind, it was his belief in the company that was the true influencing factor. “My deal with Ford is that I believe in the company. I believe in the products that they make and just like everyone else at Ford and Roush Fenway Racing, if Ford benefits, I have the potential to benefit from that success too. But there was no last-minute influx of money or anything like that. That’s a false assumption.”
Roush says he and Carl didn’t use dollars in their discussions either. “The one thing that Carl and I did not have a discussion about at any point in the negotiation or consideration was money. Money was not a factor from my side, from the Roush Fenway side, and from what I could see it was not a factor from Carl’s side. That did not weigh into the decision Carl made.”
Carl says it has been an interesting process, this effort of going through searching for his place in the future, and he walked away with a lot of new lessons learned about not only himself, but the people he sees each week at the track. “It was amazing the things I learned.
"I learned a lot about Jack as a person. I learned a lot about myself and what’s important to me. I learned a lot about my competitors, about you guys in the media, and I’m really appreciative for all those folks who were patient with me and took the time, and a lot of folks, a lot of folks in here included, I talked to them about this decision and the support that I received was huge, so I really, really appreciate that from the competitors as well.”
In the end, it is the chance to unseat Johnson that was the real push behind his decision to stay where he is. “I’m really excited. We’re excited to go out here and try to win this championship.
I appreciate Jack and everyone at Roush Fenway Racing for giving me the time that I needed to make my decisions and to look at everything. I can’t say how much I respect Jack and everyone at Roush Fenway and the process, contrary to what a lot of you guys thought, the process went pretty well. We got along real well throughout it and there’s a lot of respect. I’m just excited to move forward. This team is in a position that we’ve never been in before. We feel that we’re fast for the right reasons and we have the opportunity to go out here and win this championship, so I’m glad it’s behind us. I’m glad to be here racing and going for the championship.”
Several folks I talked with agree that they think if anyone can do it, Edwards is at the top of the list.
“(Carl is) A strong candidate, for sure,” commented Barb Dawson. But she added “However, there are still a few others that I can't count out. I am inclined to believe that this is not going to be Jimmie Johnson's year this year.”
“I sure hope (he can win the championship)” added Judy McMains.
As for Johnson, he feels comfortable with where he is in the standings right now and isn’t letting the talk about Edwards being his stiffest competition, bother him. “To me, looking at the top and how no one has been able to stay consistent and run away. Carl broke away a little bit, but I think this championship is anyone’s championship.”
Everything has been looking up for the young man from Missouri recently. Married, with two young children, he now seems to have everything he wants right within reach. Now Carl Edwards is hoping that with the contract in his rear-view mirror, he can now work on keeping Johnson and the 48 out of that top spot in the standings.
"We have chances to win almost every week. The opportunity to go out and win this championship, to continue my partnership with Jack, to continue it with Ford and with the sponsors we have -- it's an honor to be in this position."
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
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