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With the relationship between Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing appearing to be a thing of the past, teams are looking to Bowyer as a possible addition to their organizations.
Among those teams with possible openings for Bowyer are Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing. Both team owner Jack Roush and JGR team president J.D. Gibbs expressed interest in bringing Bowyer on as a part of their team Saturday in Richmond.
Roush said he has always seen Bowyer as "very capable" and "compatible" with his organization, saying he would be interested in acquiring the free-agent driver if "the opportunity presented itself."
While Roush Fenway Racing currently has four teams, sponsor UPS has announced its departure from the No. 6 car driven by David Ragan and the organization is still working on funding for both Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
If Roush is unable to bring Bowyer on board at RFR, he "would be in favor" of having him at one of their "affiliate teams" of Richard Petty Motorsports or Wood Brothers Racing.
On the other side of the garage, Gibbs remained steadfast in saying their organization is always open to the addition of a fourth team, but all of the pieces - driver, sponsor and crew - have to be in place for that to happen.
While he said Bowyer could "drive a race car" he seemed to indicate finding sponsorship for the fourth team would be the biggest hurdle facing his acquisition.
What Gibbs does not believe would be an issue is the personal differences his drivers and Bowyer have had in the past. At the beginning of last year's Chase, Denny Hamlin called out Bowyer and RCR for pushing the envelop in terms of the rule book - going so far as to accuse them of cheating. Gibbs said the organization has been forced to deal with clashing personalities in the past and believed if faced with the situation, they would find middle ground and put it in the past.
When pressed when it would be too late to put a deal together, Gibbs simply said, "It's getting pretty close."
Clint Bowyer has been answering questions about his possible departure from Richard Childress Racing for weeks, yet behind the scenes the No. 33 team has had to shrug off the rumors and focus on making the Chase.
That has not been the easiest thing to do for the crew guys as they speculate about Bowyer's decision and their future within the organization.
Crew chief Shane Wilson described the current situation as "a bummer" and admitted it "definitely takes its toll" on the team.
"It probably just bums everyone out more than a lack of concentration," he said. "Not knowing your future is not very good. We race and that's what we'll do and until the end of the year."
What has kept the team motivated was the fight to make the Chase. With those chances essentially gone after last weekend's wreck with Juan Pablo Montoya, Wilson admitted keeping the team focused over the course of the final 10 races "will be a little bit harder" once they are no longer racing for the championship.
If the likely scenario takes place and Bowyer moves on from RCR, Wilson simply hopes the team is able to sell sponsors and find a driver to fill the seat on the No. 33 Chevrolet.
Clint Bowyer has faced questions about his contract situation for weeks, but the picture got a bit clearer Thursday in Richmond.
After team owner Richard Childress told Sirius NASCAR Radio it was getting "tougher and tougher" to find an agreement and they could not "get everything worked out," Bowyer said it was "fair" to assume an extension was unlikely.
Although he would not say a deal was "100 percent off the table," Childress said Bowyer had "a couple of really good opportunities" outside of the team. Bowyer has been linked to Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing, among others.
"There's opportunities and stuff we're just trying to lay out," Bowyer said. "You've got to have all the stars line up, you can't just have one part of the puzzle. You're wasting your time talking to any media, because you don't have anything to deliver to them.
"I'm still waiting on my helicopter. My best friend wants a miniature pony as well, so we're still waiting on that one."
Last week, Tony Stewart officially hired Danica Patrick to run a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule next year. Now he'd like to add another driver to the Stewart-Haas Racing roster: Mark Martin.
"I would love to have him," Stewart said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "The biggest thing is us getting the financial backing to run the remainder of those races. I would love nothing more than Mark in all the races that Danica doesn't run next year. I've been a Mark Martin fan for a long time and, trust me, I would love nothing more than to have Mark in one of our cars."
Stewart said Martin would be "a leading candidate" if the team was able to get sponsorship for the remainder of the season. GoDaddy currently sponsors Martin, but apparently will not continue to do so in the future as it focuses its dollars on Patrick.
Martin is one of several drivers with uncertain plans for next season. Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and David Ragan are also looking at their options.
Fastenal will continue its partnership with Carl Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing in 2012, moving this time to the Sprint Cup Series as primary sponsor of the No. 99 Ford for 17 races.
The Carl Edwards contract saga that came to an end Thursday was just the latest illustration of how distracting contract negotiations and renewals can become over the course of a season. For weeks and months, rumors swirled and questions were asked about Edwards' future, the consequences of a move to Joe Gibbs Racing and the domino effect it would have on other free agents and teams.
Despite 11 different winners in the last 11 races, it seems the majority of the conversations throughout the NASCAR garage and media center focused on Edwards' contract situation and the possible fallout. The discussion not only dominated the headlines, but also served as a distraction for fans, drivers and team members – especially those directly linked to the rumors.
Edwards even said Friday afternoon in Pocono he wished he had never mentioned his contract was up, thus drawing less attention and making the process much easier. Teammate Greg Biffle said he was glad the situation came to an end because, "people won't ask me about it anymore after today."
"It can get to a point where it's all you guys ask and it's all we sometimes think about because of what you ask," said Ryan Newman, who has a contract up at the end of the 2012 season. "Sometimes pleading the fifth is the best thing you can do to get the answer done and give you guys the answer you want."
While Newman would not elaborate about his upcoming contract situation, he did say he believed it was better to handle those things during the off-season while the team is building race cars and not preparing to go the race track every weekend.
This season, the majority of contract talk has surrounded Edwards, but in 2010 that focus was mainly on Kevin Harvick and his negotiations with Richard Childress Racing.
Similar to Edwards, Harvick was atop the standings and had a long relationship the organization, but rumors still swirled about his departure. In the end, Harvick inked an extension with Childress and has contended for the title the past two seasons.
For Harvick, it is those on the team who are the most affected by the distraction and rumors being swirled around about the varying possibilities.
"It's a tough situation to be in with your team just because all the guys look at you like, ‘Man, why are you leaving? Things are going pretty good,'" Harvick said.
"The guys on the team that don't know anything is going on those are the guys that it's hardest on," he added. "They don't want to ask any questions, but they ask them to you kind of under their breath and in odd ways just to see if they can figure out what is going on so that goes away as soon as everything is announced."
Now that the contract situation has finally been put to rest at Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards believes the team is glad to put everything behind them.
After he and team owner Jack Roush spent time with the crew this weekend he admitted, "everybody feels the same way as best as I can tell that, ‘Hey, man, that was getting kind of stressful. I'm really glad we're moving beyond that.' I think everybody kind of has that same feeling, so that's good."
With Carl Edwards off the NASCAR free agent market following his decision to re-sign with Roush Fenway Racing, the highest-profile driver still available is Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer has yet to extend his contract with Richard Childress Racing – though publicly, he's said he wants to do so.
When will he make a decision?
"We're working on it," Bowyer said Friday at Pocono Raceway. "That's the biggest thing as far as contract stuff. I feel like we're getting close and we're working on it, and hopefully we'll have that done."
Because of the limited amount of opportunities at other teams, it's been speculated Bowyer will remain at Childress. There are no seats at Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing appears to be waiting for Danica Patrick's arrival to expand to three cars and Joe Gibbs Racing will likely remain at three teams now that Edwards stayed with Roush.
It seems unlikely that Roush would have a place for Bowyer now that Edwards has re-signed, and most of Bowyer's other opportunities would be a step down from his current ride.
That Edwards, Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle have all decided to remain with their current teams is indicative of an owner's market. Drivers simply don't have that many options due to the economic climate, so their best option is to stay put if they can.
Bowyer was rumored to have been flirting with Red Bull Racing before the team announced it would shut down if a new owner wasn't found, but that's obviously no longer an option.
Because the team might not exist, it's likely not an option for current Red Bull driver Brian Vickers, either. It's unclear where Vickers may end up, because there are so few good rides available.
Another free agent is Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian still hasn't re-signed with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, even though that seemed like a foregone conclusion months ago.
And then there's Mark Martin. The veteran has kept his future plans close to the vest, but has said repeatedly that he plans to drive again somewhere next season.
Of course, the picture could get much clearer after Bowyer makes his decision.
Carl Edwards is not taking his talents to Joe Gibbs Racing after all.
Edwards, the franchise driver for both Roush Fenway Racing and Ford's NASCAR efforts, ended his lengthy decision-making process on Thursday morning when the team announced he signed a contract extension to remain at Roush.
"As an organization, Roush Fenway provides the resources I need to win, and as a driver, that's the most important thing," Edwards said. "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."
The 31-year-old decided to stay with his longtime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team after a serious flirtation with Joe Gibbs Racing. In fact, it seemed even teammates had started to believe Edwards would leave Roush despite the No. 99 team's championship-caliber season thus far.
The rumors reached a fever pitch at Indianapolis last week, where it became clear they were becoming a distraction to not only Edwards and Roush, but Gibbs and driver Joey Logano. Edwards, acting as his own agent, apparently realized the time had come to make the call.
Edwards' departure would have been a disaster for Ford and a major coup for Toyota. But ultimately, Ford executives worked with Roush to make sure that wouldn't happen.
"We are pleased with Carl's vote of confidence in Roush Fenway and Ford," Ford Racing director 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."
Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush said the team "didn't take our past success for granted when we sat down with Carl to talk about his future."
That became clear as Edwards seemed poised to become the biggest free agent to jump teams since Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch in 2007. Ultimately, unlike LeBron James, Edwards decided to stay at home.
That comparison was not lost on Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark, who tweeted shortly after the announcement:
@NewmarkRFR: Thanks to all for patience in this process and thanks to Carl for not booking a 30-minute TV special to announce #thedecision.
The main question now: With the Edwards domino out of the way, which driver will be next to sign an extension or jump teams in NASCAR's silly season?
Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya seem likely to re-sign with their respective teams at this point, and Joey Logano might now be safe at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Can the same be said for David Ragan at Roush? And what will happen to Brian Vickers? The answers to both of those questions remain unclear at this point.
Greg Biffle has been teammates with Carl Edwards ever since the latter driver came into NASCAR with Roush Fenway Racing.
But Biffle sounded frustrated on Friday when he was asked about Edwards' still murky future. Edwards, a free agent after this season, has yet to decide whether he will stay at Roush Fenway Racing or leave for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Biffle compared Edwards' decision process to the wrangling over the debt ceiling in Congress: Sooner or later, he said, it has to end.
"At some point, he's gonna have to say, 'I'm not coming back,'" Biffle said. "He's not gonna be able to wait until Homestead – we all know that. Carl is a big boy, he's a man and he has to make his own decisions."
Biffle said Edwards should make a decision quickly so the team can start planning for next year – sponsorships and teams and personnel – either way.
"There are a lot of people's jobs on the line (depending on) if we're gonna be three teams or four teams," Biffle said. "I understand contract negotiations take a long time and there is a lot to them, but truly if you know or you've made a decision, then it's time to give everybody enough opportunity to make their (move) on the back side of that."
Jeff Gordon, who drives for rival Hendrick Motorsports, said if Edwards announces he's leaving Roush for Gibbs, then the 99 team "is done."
"I just don't see them winning the championship knowing that they're leaving," Gordon said. "I might be wrong. If he stays, it might have just been a blip and then get back on track. So I think that's definitely playing a factor."
Two of Edwards' potential future teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, said they would welcome Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing with open arms.
"I think it would be good for our team," Hamlin said. "I think that the dynamic of the three drivers that we already have is good. Having a guy that has already contended for championships and wins on a weekly basis can't be a bad thing."
Said Busch: "He's really good at what he does, he's got great communication, he's got good feedback. He's been one of the top three or four guys in the sport every year he's been around. ... I feel like Carl would certainly mesh well and fit in."
Edwards, for his part, remained tight-lipped about his future and said he preferred to negotiate out of the public spotlight.
Clint Bowyer was standing on a golf course this week when his phone started blowing up with texts and e-mails from friends.
The news of Red Bull's departure from NASCAR had just broken, and reports surfaced linking Bowyer's name to Red Bull as a serious candidate to drive for the team in 2012.
Word around the garage was Bowyer, whose contract with Richard Childress Racing expires at the end of the season, had much more than just a passing interest in Red Bull until the team's future became hazy.
But on Friday at Infineon Raceway, the driver called the media "pretty creative" and dismissed the claims as rumors.
"I've said from Day One that I want to stay at RCR, and we're actively pursuing that," he said. "It's just this time of year – you've got to see what's out there, you've got to see your options. The goal has never changed: I want to stay right where I'm at and hopefully keep the same colors on our car and everything.
"As far as I'm concerned, just sign us up for three more years."
So what's the holdup in getting a deal done? Sponsorship, Bowyer said, adding that "it takes time to get all that done."
Bowyer tried his best to paint a picture of the rumors as being unfounded, saying he didn't know how they possibly would have gotten started.
"You run into people in the garage and it's like, 'Hey, what are you doing next year?' And it's like, 'Well, I don't know.' (They say) 'Well, we might be interested,'" he said. "Then the next thing you know, you're standing on a golf course and everybody is saying, 'Well, now what are you going to do? Your plan just blew up.' It's like, 'What?'"
Ultimately, Bowyer said, "I think we'll get it all put together."
"If that doesn't happen, then you've got to explore options and see what's out there," he said. "It's the same thing everybody goes through. It's not much fun, but it's part of it."
Carl Edwards has said little about his contract negotiations for next season and beyond – and that didn't change on Friday at Infineon Raceway despite rumors he's been talking to Joe Gibbs Racing.
"As far as my contract status, it is the same as the beginning of the year," said Edwards, who acts as his own agent. "We are working hard on it and we do all that stuff behind closed doors. We are making progress and hopefully we will be able to tell you guys what my plan is soon."
Edwards declined to comment specifically on the Gibbs rumors and said he continues to work on the contract situation "privately."
Though he offered few details on whether he will stay at Roush Fenway Racing or possibly make a move to another team, Edwards acknowledged feeling like "We would like to get this done before we get into the Chase."
That said, he insisted he won't "force anything or rush anything." Edwards did say he's been proud to drive for Jack Roush and promised to tell the media what his plans were when he knew them.
Pressed further, Edwards politely said he would no longer discuss the contract situation.
"I am not going to talk about it anymore," he said. "They are really good questions. I have worked really hard in my career trying to minimize distractions. ... We have to stay focused on our goal – to win the championship – no matter what."
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