All eyes on Carl Edwards as he ponders 2012 plans
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By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- -- Carl Edwards is under no obligation to publicly discuss his ongoing contract negotiations or to hurry his decision along.
That doesn't mean the NASCAR community isn't frustrated with the wait.
Edwards continued to hold the industry hostage all weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the most frequent topic of conversation was his indecision on where he'll drive next season. In the final year of his contract with Roush Fenway Racing, he's refused to indicate if he has any desire to return to that team or if he'll jump ship for Joe Gibbs Racing.
As the Sprint Cup Series points leader privately ponders his future, most everyone else seems unable to discuss anything else.
There's no talk of Danica Patrick, who is in the final stages of putting together her full-time NASCAR plan. Patrick is apparently going to run a full Nationwide schedule with JR Motorsports, and run a limited Sprint Cup schedule with Tony Stewart in preparation for an eventual full Cup schedule.
Her defection from IndyCar will be a monstrous coup for NASCAR, but the spotlight is instead stuck on Edwards.
Nobody is hounding Clint Bowyer, the next best available driver in line behind Edwards. He has insisted he wants to stay with Richard Childress Racing, but the team doesn't have a sponsor signed for him and without one, he can't really commit to a new contract.
But there's no poking and prodding as to which teams Bowyer is quietly talking to just in case RCR can't give him a deal, and everybody just assumes he's stuck in limbo until Edwards declares and sets the dominoes in motion.
The dominoes aren't small, either.
Roush Fenway can do very little until management knows if Edwards will be back in 2012. It's an unsettling waiting game considering the organization only has one full-time sponsor signed up for its four cars next season. But how do they shop for funding not knowing who the driver of the No. 99 will be?
And what about poor Joey Logano? He's left twisting in the wind, unsure if Edwards is going to take his No. 20 Toyota from him at JGR. Should that happen, and that's believed to be the offer on the table for Edwards, what does JGR plan to do with Logano?
There's no indication JGR has that piece figured out, as speculation mounts the organization will either shop him for a new fourth team, drop him down to a full-time Nationwide ride or ship him over on loan to another Toyota program.
On and on this goes, with Edwards politely declining every query into his thought process.
"I'd just rather not say," Edwards said when asked if he's come to a decision. "I appreciate it, guys. You guys have been very good to me and I appreciate it."
Then give us something, Carl! Please! Then everybody can get back to their lives!
Roush teammate Greg Biffle seemed to echo the growing impatience, intimating he believes Edwards is out the door and needs to make his intention known.
"It's obvious that it's coming to a head. At some point he's going to have to say that 'I'm not coming back,' " Biffle said. "He's going to have to make a decision, and it'll be best for everybody, so we can plan for sponsorships and drivers and teams and people. There are a lot of people's jobs on the line ... so the sooner the better."
There's also a championship on the line, even though Edwards refuses to believe the ongoing drama will have any effect on his on-track performance.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who firmly believes he's a legitimate threat to win the title himself this season, is adamant that Edwards' indecision will derail his own chances to win NASCAR's top prize. Gordon doesn't really care where Edwards drives next season, but the longer this drags on, the more certain Gordon is that Edwards won't be a viable title contender.
"Whether or not he's staying or going, it's a big distraction," Gordon said. "I'm not saying that just for Carl. It would with anybody. Anybody that's going through a contract renegotiation year, things are up in the air, it's always going to be a distraction."
And if Edwards indeed decides to leave for JGR?
"They're done," Gordon declared. "I just don't see them winning the championship knowing that they're leaving."
Edwards doesn't buy into that theory, and is certain that he and crew chief Bob Osborne are professional enough to focus on the task at hand and not let contract talks interfere with performance. There's no reason to challenge him on it, either: He was 14th on Sunday, has 13 top-10s in 20 races, and still holds an 11-point lead over five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson in the standings.
"We're doing what we need to do. I'm a competitor," Edwards said. "My job is to do the job that I'm hired to do and whatever distractions that are out there, I have to be able to shut those off and go race. And that's what I do."
That may be a little naive, though, and maybe even out of Edwards' hands once the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins. Assume that Edwards decides before the Chase that he's going to JGR next year. With teammate Matt Kenseth a viable title contender, and former Kenseth crew chief Robbie Reiser the current competition director at Roush, it seems entirely possible that the best equipment will be earmarked for the driver who will be with the organization in 2012.
There's also the potential for backlash against Edwards from the loyal Ford fans who would be horrified to see him jump to a Toyota. Edwards is popular and polite, and falls into the "good guy" category. Should a portion of his fan base turn on him, and view him as a villain, it might sting more than Edwards anticipates.
No matter what, though, it's very much his decision to make whenever he's good and ready.
Still, everyone wishes he'd hurry up!
Follow Jenna Fryer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JennaFryer
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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