Previews, predictions and stats for Carl Edwards and the No. 99 team
The last crew chief to win a Sprint Cup championship for the Blue Oval brigade is now the next best hope to rejuvenate Carl Edwards’ title efforts. Jimmy Fennig’s assignment (or acceptance, or demand — however the story really goes) is by far the biggest offseason move among Roush Fenway Racing teams, both for its potential for wild success and lurking combustibility.
As these things go, it’s probably more likely that Edwards’ season will fall somewhere between improved and not quite title-worthy. Either way, the early part of the No. 99 Ford’s season will be a must-watch and a must-listen affair to see how well alpha male Edwards adapts to the alpha crew chief Fennig.
Fennig, the 59-year-old Roush Fenway crew chief credited with leading Kurt Busch to the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup title in 2004, takes over Edwards’ pit box tasked with getting the high-dollar driver in a much better place than he was in 2012. Heck, just having Edwards lead more than five races and collecting a win would be a massive improvement over the disastrous campaign from Ford’s on-track figurehead.
Fennig, whose successful career spans the eras of shock slinging and aero-engineering, replaces Chad Norris after the latter led a largely successful Ford farewell campaign for Matt Kenseth. Norris, who came aboard midway through 2012 when longtime Edwards crew chief Bob Osborne stepped aside for health reasons, wasn’t replaced for performance reasons, the team claims.
“There is not one thing (Norris) has done wrong,” Edwards says. “It isn’t like that. It’s that the opportunity with Jimmy came along and it was too hard to pass up.”
Norris moves to Roush’s No. 60 Nationwide Series team, while Edwards moves into Kenseth’s old No. 17 team that Fennig has built to his liking. For Kenseth, Fennig’s vision paid off with three wins (including the Daytona 500) and a Chase berth last season. Naturally, Fennig is expecting Edwards to adapt to his style, not vice versa.
“(Carl) might not be used to some stuff, but I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing,” Fennig said during the team’s announcement late last season. “I’ll still get viewpoints from him, but I wanted to let him know my philosophy as far as how I run the shop, the people and the race cars.”
Before Fennig took on the role with Edwards — Fennig says he’s never really talked or worked with Edwards despite the two sharing a common employment roof for the entirety of Edwards’ decade-old NASCAR career — he sought confirmation from Jack Roush that the team owner supported his demands on a driver. Roush made no exceptions for Edwards.
“(Fennig) wanted that commitment from me, and he wanted a commitment from Carl for some additional time that Bob (Osborne) had not required to really debrief him on what the car was doing and what input he wanted to have for what the setup changes would be,” Roush says.
For his part, Edwards said all the right things to get the relationship started on the right foot. He said it was an opportunity “no driver would pass up” thanks to how well Fennig had tuned Kenseth’s car. Fennig actually helped groom Osborne before he became Edwards’ crew chief, so the Missouri native may find some similarities between the new and old.
“Bob actually worked as my race engineer years ago, so the only thing Carl probably has to get used to is the fact that I’m a grumpy old man,” Fennig said, laughing.
“Have you ever spent much time around Bob? He’s a cranky young man,” Edwards responded. “I am OK with cranky. I like a guy that builds fast race cars and is able to manage his people and give me the best pit stops, race cars and strategy.”
Edwards could certainly use that fast car to forget how poor last year was. The disappointment went beyond the noted runner-up jinx that often plagues championship contenders who come up well short the following season. Edwards led 20 fewer races and scored fewer top 5s than any time in his Cup career.
Fennig could be just what Edwards needs, but there’s no guarantee the personalities will mesh. If they do — or if they don’t — look out.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
In 2012, Carl Edwards suffered through what is now the expected “championship-run hangover” by those drivers who come up short on a title bid the previous season. That hasn’t changed his rivals’ opinion of him, though.
“Carl is like David Pearson,” one crew chief says, heaping great praise on Edwards. “At the end of the day he’ll get the most points he can possibly get for you when the checkered flag flies. … He isn’t a very aggressive driver — he’s a steady, go-getter-type of driver who makes points, and he has a boatload of talent.”
Don’t overlook the physical aspect of driving 400- or 500-mile races in less-than-ideal conditions, either:
“Carl and Mark Martin are probably the most physically prepared drivers out there, and I think that plays into his hands in some of these longer races,” another chief says. “Some of these guys seem to fall out of the seat or get a little lax, and he seems to step up and get it done as the race goes on.”
“I wonder about the Edwards-Jimmy Fennig pairing in 2013,” a media member says. “It seems Fennig and (Ricky) Stenhouse would make for a more compatible team. Maybe Carl pulled an in-house power play and Roush felt he needed to honor Carl’s request — or was it a demand?”
Looking at Checkers: Thirteen of his 19 career Cup wins have come on tracks 1.5 miles or longer. The surest bet: Atlanta, where he has three wins and eight top 5s in 15 races.
Pretty Solid Pick: Aside from the cookie cutters, he has a reputation for excelling on concrete. Or is that “Concrete Carl” nickname owed to someone’s love of alliteration?
Good Sleeper Pick: Better than average on the roadies, but don’t bet the mortgage.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Bristol aside, he’s still not the pick on the short tracks.
Insider Tip: Can we just throw out last season’s stats? Unfortunately not, but in a down 2012 Edwards collected the bulk of his 13 top 10s at the aero-dependent intermediates. That should tell you that driver overcame equipment.
Click here to order the 2013 Athlon Sports Racing annual.