LONG POND, Pa — The one phone call from his boss that meant the most to Carl Edwards wasn’t a pitch to stay at Roush Fenway Racing.
Jack Roush simply told his star driver — and the hottest free agent in NASCAR — to make the decision based on what was best for Edwards.
“He said those words to me, and that meant the world,” Edwards said Friday at Pocono Raceway. “It meant that I didn’t have the pressure to do something for any reason other than what I thought was best.”
In the end, Edwards decided what was best was sticking with the only organization he’s called home in his Cup career. Edwards signed a multi-year contract extension with RFR this week because he believed the resources, sponsors, crew and car give him the best chance to win championships.
“Whenever I’d start feeling that pressure start creeping in from the outside I’d think, ‘OK, let’s get back to the basics here,”’ he said. “Where can I win the most championships? And what would I do if other people’s opinions weren’t a factor?”
There were plenty of opinions around the garage from fellow drivers to the media speculating on his future. Greg Biffle, his teammate, intimated Edwards was leaving the organization. Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said lingering contract negotiations were a distraction to Edwards as he chased his first career championship. Edwards enters Sunday’s Sprint Cup race in first place, a spo t he’s held in the No. 99 Ford for the majority of the season.
“I still think it got them a little bit behind, but this will allow them to get back on track,” Gordon said. “I never considered them a non-threat. Carl’s a great driver and that team’s a very good team. There’s no doubt those talks and that constant barrage of questions is hard to get past until you get settled.”
Edwards, who acted as his own agent, said the end of negotiations were a big relief. He kept details private, though he was courted by Joe Gibbs Racing, and insisted money was not an issue. Hard to believe, but Roush said money was never discussed. Edwards had more pressing questions about how the organization is run and what’s ahead for his team.
Roush did the equivalent of opening the books, letting Edwards in on the secrets of every nook of the organization.
“If Carl had made the decision not to come back, I was going to feel really stupid for having shown him all these things,” Roush said.
Edwards refused to say how close he was to signing with another team or how many teams showed interest. Once Edwards was back in the fold, Roush started sponsorship discussions for the No. 99, and he said there’s no shortage of interested suitors. Roush said the company will be “just fine” running four cars.
RFR also has Matt Kenseth and David Ragan under contract.
Edwards’ contract means other free agents can start seriously considering their options for 2012 and beyond. Clint Bowyer (Richard Childress Racing), Juan Pablo Montoya (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) and Brian Vickers (Red Bull Racing) are the three top free agents available, and interest is about to pick up.
Vickers needed a seat once Red Bull announced it will leave NASCAR at the end of the season. Bowyer said Friday he’s close to re-signing with RCR.
“I feel like we’re getting close and we’re working on it, and hopefully we’ll have that done,” Bowyer said.
Also affected was JGR driver Joey Logano, who likely would have lost his ride in the No. 20 had Edwards come aboard. JGR star Denny Hamlin made it seem like a deal with Edwards was not as close as it appeared.
He asked owner Joe Gibbs to tell him when a deal was close.
Gibbs told him, “If it ever got to that point, I would let you know first.”
Hamlin never heard a peep.
“So I knew that it never really had gotten very far along, I don’t believe,” Hamlin said. “Whether his intentions really were to leave or not, it’s tough to say.”
Edwards has been with Roush since 2002, when the team gave him his break in NASCAR. It came in the Trucks Series, but Edwards was in Cup by 2004 as a late-season replacement for Jeff Burton.
He was a four-time Cup winner the next season and a bona fide NASCAR star, backflipping off the winning car in celebration of each victory.
Edwards’ best season was 2008, when he won a series-high nine races and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the championship race.
It’s the team he wanted to call home should he ever hoist that championship trophy. With the sparkling results he’s had this season, there was little reason for Edwards to bolt.
“We don’t have a weakness, and that’s the thing that makes me feel really good about our prospects going forward,” Roush said. “We don’t have anything glaring that is deficient.”
Bold words from the long-time owner. Edwards is confident he can back up the boasts with the best finish of his career.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we went through all of this, and we’re leading the points,” Edwards said. “We haven’t missed a beat, and we’re able to keep digging.”
NOTEBOOK: Brad Keselowski says no amount of pain he might feel from his broken left ankle will force him from Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
He has been cleared to race following the accident at Road Atlanta on Wednesday. He slowly eased into the No. 2 Dodge before turning laps in Friday’s practice at Pocono Raceway. Keselowski says going through the corner with no breaks and no soft wall at Atlanta was his scariest moment as a driver.
Keselowski posted pictures on Twitter of the injury. It looked as if someone stuffed a softball on the left side of his ankle.
Keselowski won’t run in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race in Iowa. Penske Racing says Sam Hornish Jr. will drive the No. 22 Dodge in Friday’s practices, qualifying and the race.