INDIANAPOLIS -- Buried as a throwaway line, deep in a Roush Fenway Racing press release, Sunday's news that Carl Edwards will not return to the team he has driven for since 2003 didn't come as a surprise.
Contractual obligations mean we won't know for a few weeks where Edwards, the winner of 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup races for Roush Fenway and a two-time Cup series runner-up, will drive in 2015. But all signs point to Joe Gibbs Racing.
If Edwards does team up with JGR, he will be making the exact same move his former Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth successfully completed in 2013.
Kenseth's first year away from the "House of Roush" produced seven race wins and a strong run for the 2013 Sprint Cup championship in JGR's No. 20 car. He hasn't been able to repeat those numbers in 2014, but he ranks fourth in the point standings, ahead of his JGR teammates Kyle Busch (eighth) and Denny Hamlin (12th).
For Edwards, leaving the team and manufacturer (Ford) he has driven for throughout his 12-year NASCAR career was clearly about more than money.
After Edwards finished a close second to Tony Stewart in the memorable battle for the 2011 Sprint Cup, Ford stepped up to entice Edwards to stay with Roush for an additional three years.
But only four of Edwards' 23 career wins have come in that time frame, all while Team Penske has taken from Roush Fenway the title of Ford's most competitive team.
Roger Penske and Penske Racing president Tim Cindric made it clear that there would not be expansion to include Edwards, a fact verified Sunday by Ford Racing director Jamie Allison.
"Carl Edwards has been a part of the Ford family for a decade, and it will certainly be tough to see him leave Ford and Roush Fenway Racing," Allison said in a statement. "We at Ford Racing did everything to facilitate keeping Carl a part of the Ford Racing and Roush Fenway family, but in the end, that option did not come to fruition."
With no open seats at Hendrick Motorsports or satellite team Stewart-Haas Racing, Edwards apparently looked to the Toyota camp. Edwards reportedly had extensive negotiations with the Gibbs team when he was working to sort out his future in 2011, and JGR appears set to expand to four cars to accommodate the 34-year-old Edwards.
Meanwhile, Roush Fenway will stand pat with three cars, with Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 replacing Edwards and the No. 99.
With a driver lineup that also includes Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the Roush roster is a far cry from the team's glory days a decade ago when it ran as many as five cars, with an all-star lineup of drivers including Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton, Kenseth and Edwards.
Kenseth and Busch won back-to-back Cup series championships for Roush in 2003 and '04, but the only season-long hardware the team has collected since then is a trio of Nationwide Series titles won by Edwards (2007) and Stenhouse (2011 and '12).
Martin had this to say about co-owner Jack Roush and his team's future without Edwards:
- Mark Martin (@markmartin) July 27, 2014
Biffle, who is still seeking his first race win of the 2014 season, will anchor the Roush Fenway attack going forward, along with Stenhouse, who is winless in his second year in Cup competition and ranked 28th in the standings. Bayne, a product of Roush's driver development program like his teammates, will finally get a full-time chance to add to his surprise win in the 2011 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers.
"I have had the privilege of fielding entries for the world's best race car drivers in NASCAR for nearly 30 years, and feel quite fortunate to have an opportunity to do that again next year," Roush remarked. "We have always prided ourselves in developing talent at Roush Fenway, and our 2015 lineup is a testament to the success of our organization in that respect."
It's hard to imagine that swapping a proven race winner and championship contender for a still mostly unproven younger driver will help Roush Fenway Racing emerge from its current slump, but stranger things have happened. At the same time, JGR and Toyota's attempt to win a championship would be strengthened by the expansion to include Edwards.
For his part, Edwards confirmed Sunday only that he has a deal for 2015 and beyond, adding that his focus remains on the rest of the 2014 season with Roush Fenway. He has scored two race wins this year (Bristol and Sonoma) and ranks sixth in the Sprint Cup standings.
"I'm 100 percent driving this 99 car," Edwards said. "I haven't even started the process of building next year. It's not on my mind right now.
"It's all about winning right now."