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Edwards makes right call with Roush

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- By staying at Roush Fenway Racing, Carl Edwards may have avoided making the biggest mistake of his career.

There are no guarantees the back-flipping driver would have won a championship had he gone to Joe Gibbs Racing. Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte have won Sprint Cup titles at JGR, but Kyle Busch, who at times looks like the greatest driver on the planet, has not. Labonte's title came more than a decade ago, in 2000.

Roush Fenway has made two drivers -- Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004 -- into champions in the past eight seasons.

There also were no guarantees that Edwards would be the top dog at JGR as he is at Roush Fenway. Busch is younger and has way more potential. Denny Hamlin led in points going into the final race a year ago, something Edwards never has done.

Edwards appeared to have concerns about the inconsistency he's seen at RFR. He appeared to be looking at how in 2006, after finishing tied for second in points with four wins the previous season, he went winless and finished 12th; how in 2009, after finishing second in points with a series-high nine wins the previous year, he went winless and finished 11th.

But consider that in 2009 Busch didn't make the Chase a year after winning eight races. And even when Busch won eight races, he finished 10th in points.

Consider that Hamlin currently has only one win and is 11th in points a year after winning a career-high six races and finishing second to Jimmie Johnson.

Consider the quality control issues at Gibbs. In 2008, Busch entered the Chase with a 20-point lead only to see parts failures in the first two races end his championship quest.

A few years ago, JGR drivers complained about a lack of horsepower. A year ago, Hamlin lost the championship in the next-to-last race because of poor fuel mileage.

JGR had engine issues with one of its cars in each of the first five races this season, and Hamlin started from the rear last week at Indianapolis because of a blown engine in practice.

It's such an issue that JGR and Toyota Racing Development are looking at ways to combine their engine programs.

The Roush-Yates engine program, meanwhile, has been arguably the strongest in the garage this season and one of the reasons Edwards leads in points heading into this weekend's race at Pocono.

I'm not saying JGR isn't one of the top organizations in the garage or that there aren't issues at RFR. I'm just saying the grass isn't necessarily greener somewhere else.

And consider that since Edwards began Cup racing in 2004, Roush Fenway has collected 54 wins to 52 for JGR. If you want to break it down more, the average finish of the top Roush Fenway driver in points since 2004 is 3.1 compared to 4.5 at JGR.

So who provides Edwards the better opportunity to win a title?

Consider that the odds of Edwards getting along with JGR's other drivers for any length of time weren't great. Joey Logano couldn't have been happy to be knocked out of the No. 20 car with Home Depot as his sponsor. Hamlin couldn't have been happy if he were looked at as the company's second- or third-best driver.

But most of all Busch couldn't have been happy about any of this because of his combative past with Edwards.

At Bristol in 2008, Edwards bumped Busch out of the way to take the lead with three laps remaining. The two then went at each other with their cars after the race, resulting in probation for both.

In the second race this year, Busch wrecked Edwards' pole-winning car, prompting Edwards to say Busch had one coming to him.

If their history on the track didn't cause issues, economics might have. If numbers being thrown around are correct, Edwards would have made about $40 million over the next three years at JGR. That averages out to more than $13 million a year, which I'm told is well more than Busch or Hamlin make in base salary.

The numbers were so high that two team owners told me they wouldn't touch it for fear of the animosity it would create within the team. Both said it could be implosive, particularly when negotiations for the other drivers come around.

And don't forget Edwards would be getting that salary at a time when most drivers are taking cuts. Greg Biffle didn't say what he got in his latest deal with RFR, but he said in February he expected drivers across the board to get 30 percent to 40 percent less.

You could hear some animosity in Biffle's voice over the Edwards situation at Indianapolis.

Edwards is media savvy. He likes to be liked. He hates it when drivers refer to him as "fake," as Kevin Harvick has, or as Eddie Haskell from "Leave It To Beaver," as Stewart has.

If he left RFR, he faced certain image problems. Many would criticize the lack of loyalty to the organization and owner that gave him a chance in NASCAR when nobody else would.

I don't happen to agree with that logic because there is no loyalty in sports these days. But people would say that and portray Edwards as a bad guy, particularly because his leaving would have put RFR in dire straits sponsor-wise.

Many also would have resented Edwards for leaving Ford for Japan-based Toyota. Never mind that Toyota makes a ton of cars in the United States and provides jobs for Americans in this tough economy. Many in NASCAR sadly still resent that a foreign manufacturer is involved in the sport.

That Ford offered Edwards what team spokesman Kevin Kennedy called an "unprecedented" opportunity to stay at RFR would have made it even tougher for some to understand.

Many would take Edwards' leaving personally. Fifty-one percent of you that voted in an informal Twitter pole said Edwards should stay, so he would have had to think twice before running into the stands to celebrate after his first win in a Toyota.

Again, there were no guarantees Edwards would win more at JGR. What if he was paired with crew chief Greg Zipadelli and their personalities didn't mesh? Edwards has really known only one crew chief in his career, Bob Osborne. When Roush split them up in 2006, Edwards struggled so badly that they were reunited in 2007.

This could have turned out as badly for Edwards and JGR as the 1989 Herschel Walker trade did for the Minnesota Vikings. The Dallas Cowboys got five roster players and six draft picks for the former Heisman Trophy winner.

The Vikings thought they were a star running back away from winning it all. Instead, they finished with a 6-10 record in 1990 and went 8-8 the following year.

Kurt Busch thought he was going to greener pastures when he left Roush after the 2005 season for Penske Racing. In six years at Roush he had a title and 14 wins. In six years at Penske he has nine wins and has finished no better than fourth in points.

This may have looked like a no-lose situation for Edwards, but he could have lost everything he spent the past eight-plus seasons building. JGR had a lot to lose too if this created problems in house.

All signs indicated until this week that Edwards was leaving. JGR president J.D. Gibbs barely could look reporters in the eye when asked about Edwards at Indianapolis.

"I've got nothing," Gibbs said. "I have nothing to say."

The Texas two-step for Gibbs usually means where there is smoke there is fire. Or maybe Gibbs was just wary, remembering that he never was able to complete a deal with Kasey Kahne last year.

Or that he was close to a deal with Edwards three years ago before Roush and sponsor Aflac came up with a number that Edwards couldn't refuse.

Wary he should have been, because Edwards is staying put.

Edwards had a lot to think about as he got close to -- no offense, LeBron James -- "The Decision." Ford definitely spiced the pot, perhaps offering him the opportunity to be the national face of the sport with appearances on shows such as "American Idol."

Many of us thought Edwards made up his mind long ago that he was leaving and couldn't find a way to pull the trigger for fear of messing up this year's championship run.

That this soap opera took so long to play out doesn't come as a surprise to many. Jeff Gordon remembers when Edwards was looking at Hendrick Motorsports three years ago.

"He talked to every team," Gordon said. "I saw his negotiating tactics at that time. It's not surprising to me."

Edwards made the smart move and stayed put then.

He made the smart move again Wednesday and may have avoided making the biggest mistake of his career.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.