Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Has Carl Edwards stepped into the "dark side"?

Credit: NASCARMedia.com

Media outlets have been reporting for years that car owner Jack Roush has no love when it comes to Toyota. In 2007, Roush declared war on the manufacturer using phrases like “handing them their heads.” In 2012, Roush called Toyota the “dark side” when speaking about the departure of Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing. These were strong words for the driver who brought Roush the first of two consecutive titles and the final Winston Cup awarded.

Was the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota what Kenseth needed? In his last five years (2008-2012) with Roush Fenway, Kenseth earned seven victories, three coming in his final season with the team. Since the transition to JGR, Kenseth has fared extremely well finding victory lane seven times, all in the first season with the manufacturer. The No. 20 team was plagued by the sophomore slump in 2014, though they did make The Chase. Kenseth’s season stalled in the Eliminator round and he went on the finish seventh in the standings.

This season Kenseth's former teammate, Carl Edwards, joins him on the "dark side" after 12 years in the Roush Fenway stable. Though Roush hasn't made any remarks lately regarding Edwards' move, he did announce Edwards' departure during the 2014 Brickyard 400 weekend saying, "I will always be thankful for Carl's contribution and the role he played in many Roush Fenway wins and championships. We wish him well for the future." Strange timing? Perhaps.

In his final five seasons (2010-2014) at RFR, Edwards had seven victories and finished a career-high second in points in 2011 after a contentious points battle with eventual Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart. Edwards' 2014 season ended with a Chase berth and a ninth-place finish in the final standings, leaving room for improvement.

The question on everyone's mind is: Will Edwards have early success in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing like Kenseth? Or will it take time to build a solid relationship between driver and crew?

Edwards teams up with Denny Hamlin's former crew chief, Darian Grubb for the 2014 campaign. Grubb has experience leading a championship team, having called the shots during Stewart's third title run in 2011. With a new team, Edwards is set to have that breakout season his fans are hoping for and if Saturday night at the Sprint Unlimited was any indicator of what type of year he will have, the No. 19 is poised to have a great 2015 season. Edwards finished third in the preseason exhibition race.


Where does this leave Roush Fenway Racing? Greg Biffle returns to pilot the No. 16 Ford alongside 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne joins the lineup where he'll compete in his first full Sprint Cup Series season with hopes of taking home Rookie of the Year honors in November.

Will RFR return to the glory days of old? Or will Carl Edwards and the "dark side" be handing them their heads?

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