Thank the Lord, He's Staying with Ford!

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Carl Edwards signs extension with Roush Fenway Racing

Carl Edwards signs extension with Roush Fenway Racing

by Vito Pugliese

Washington and Wall Street were in Mylanta mode on Thursday, as the stock market imploded, losing 512 points. Larger-than-expected gains by General Motors could not buoy the economic realities of being sunk financially, out of options and not being able to make the minimum payment on our national credit card.

In Dearborn, Mich., and Concord, N.C., however, the mood was a bit brighter.

The collective group of Roush Fenway Racing, Ford Racing and Blue Oval fans everywhere could breath a collective sigh of relief, following the announcement that Carl Edwards will be returning to RFR for 2012 and beyond. The 31-year old driver from Missouri had held a large portion of NASCAR nation hostage the last few months, while speculation ran rampant that he would sign with Joe Gibbs Racing and relieve Joey Logano of driving duties in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. All the speculation was squelched though, with Edwards’ long-awaited announcement.

“I sincerely appreciate the amazing opportunity that Jack Roush has given me in this sport and am honored to race for him,” Edwards said. “As an organization, Roush Fenway provides the resources I need to win, and as a driver, that’s the most important thing. We’re having a fun season on the racetrack as we’re leading the points and in great position for the Chase. That’s the result of a lot of hard work from the men and women at Roush Fenway, Ford Motor Company and Roush-Yates Engines. I really enjoy competing with this group and looking forward to continuing that relationship into the future.”

With Roush Fenway Racing’s Boston Red Sox affiliation, call it a snow cone glove save for RFR and Ford Motor Company by keeping the biggest name in NASCAR free agency under their banner.

More accurately, it also means that Roush and Ford have avoided letting another tremendous talent walk out the door. The list of prime-time personnel that has left the ranks of Ford and Roush reads like a laundry list of who’s who in stock car racing. Those that they’ve missed out on does, as well.

In 1992, as a nasally, mullet-shod juvenile with a really bad pre-pubescent moustache, Jeff Gordon was lured away from Ford to the greener pastures of Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet. Seeing as how Gordon celebrated his 40th birthday this week, it was somewhat ironic that Ford got a big present of their own in the driver department.

Kasey Kahne was next touted as Ford’s newest “young gun” in 2003 when that stupid term was bandied about all-too-often. But Ray Evernham and Dodge were able to lure Kahne from Ford — a move that spilled over to the courts in a legal battle. The lingering ill-will as apparent when Kahne was driving for the remnants of Gillete Evernham Motorsports — renamed Richard Petty Motorsports and sporting Ford ovals.

When he was all of 15 years old, Joey Logano was touted by Mark Martin as the driver he’d like to see take over his ride in the flagship No. 6 Roush Ford. Martin’s last scouting score was Matt Kenseth, who brought the team its first Cup Series championship, so his keen eye was one to trust when it came to searching for a new driver. Logano was under consideration for a driver-development deal with Roush, but when team principles got wind that Logano’s father was discussing his son’s future with other teams, talks broke down and Logano landed at Joe Gibbs Racing.

So considering how virtually every news outlet outside of SPEED’s Bob Dillner had Edwards replacing Logano in the No. 20 car, you can chalk one up in the win column for Ford and Roush in this battle of driver retention.

Edwards made the move from the Craftsman Truck Series to the Cup level in 2004 at just the right time. One of the stalwarts of the Roush renascence, Jeff Burton, had hit a wall in the No. 99 car (figuratively, not literally), enduring three straight winless seasons. Midway through ’04, he left Roush and Ford to join Richard Childress Racing in the Chevrolet camp. Burton’s move likely would have happened eventually, as he was Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s choice to succeed him in the iconic No. 3 when he retired.

Edwards’s arrival in the 99 car was one of virtually instant success. In the final 13 races of the 2004 season, Edwards scored one top-5 and five top-10 finishes, winning his first Cup race just four races into the 2005 season. Roush’s Fords were the cars to beat that year, striking that sweet spot of newly-minted Roush-Yates horsepower, downforce and mechanical grip, going on to put all five teams in the Chase, although none were able to win the title.

That did not mean they were done losing some of their most productive members, though.

Kurt Busch, winner of the 2004 Sprint Cup while driving a Roush Ford, was benched with two races remaining in ’05 after a suspected impaired driving stop. Busch had earlier opted to depart Roush Racing for Penske to replace the retiring Rusty Wallace in the No. 2 car. While there seemed to be little love lost between Jack Roush and Busch, there was even less when his younger brother, Kyle, decided against following in his big brother’s footsteps and vacated his Roush Truck Series ride for Hendrick Motorsports.

Two years later, when Kyle would again be on the open market, Roush said of employing the Las Vegas native, “I am not interested in Kyle Busch. I’ve been there and I’ve done that.”

Martin, the cornerstone of the organization, and one of the drivers who helped put Ford back on the map in circle-track racing during the 1980s, was the key cog in Roush building his NASCAR empire. Roush’s first driver to head up his operation in 1988, Martin was recruited to come back in 2006, a year after he was set to pull back from the grind of full-time Cup competition. While running roughshod over the competition in the Truck Series that season, Martin realized that he would not be satisfied with that level of competition, and was looking for a part-time transitional role within Roush Fenway Racing.

When his wishes were essentially rejected through the press (including a less-than-complimentary good bye from Ford Racing executives at the time) Martin looked elsewhere, moving to Chevrolet and the reformed MB2 Motorsports team. The first race out, he nearly won the Daytona 500 — much like another former Roush Ford pilot, Johnny Benson Jr. in 2000 — with the team that would eventually become the No. 01 Ginn Racing operation. Martin would then move over to the mothership — HMS Hendrick Motorsports (British naval enthusiasts take heart) —where he’d win five races in ’09, challenging for the Sprint Cup down to the final race of the season.

If your head is not spinning yet with the interwoven exodus of excellence that has been allowed to flee Ford over the last decade like refugees escaping a war-torn Sudan, you’re probably starting to understand why Ford itself made such a play to retain the services of Cousin Carl — the company principles simply couldn’t afford to lose another star.

“We are pleased with Carl’s vote of confidence in Roush Fenway and Ford,” Director of Ford Racing, Jamie Allison, said. “This signals he believes he is with the right team and the right automaker to win races and championships. Now we can continue to focus on winning the 2011 championship.”

Yes, there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents with Edwards along the way — the “fake-almost-punch” with Matt Kenseth, a couple of aerial antics between he and Brad Keselowski, as well as a nasty Nationwide wreck dolled out by Edwards at Gateway last season. At Charlotte in 2009, Edwards tried to choke Kevin Harvick once and a few months later reiterated that he was “not a good person.”

But hey, if you’re a Ford guy how can you not get behind that?

In that time, though, Edwards has become the face of Ford — and to a lesser extent, NASCAR. Articulate, media-friendly and one of the most sought-after pitchmen in motorsports, he is everything a sponsor and team owner could ask for. Considering Edwards’ position to challenge for the title this season, as well as the mentoring role he has undertaken with both Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne, Ford is clearly banking their racing future on him.

In the eyes of Ford and those in the racing community, this time Jack Roush and Ford Motor Company have recouped many of the past losses in the Awesome Driver Department, and are about to start a rally of their own.
 

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<p> Roush Fenway Racing and Ford have had a history of letting big-name drivers get away. Not so with Carl Edwards.</p>

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