Bob Osborne, the crew chief who nearly led Carl Edwards to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship last season, has resigned due to unspecified medical reasons, Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday morning.
Osborne will remain with Roush Fenway as a "senior member of the organization's management team and steering committee."
The stunning announcement comes at a time when Edwards, this year's preseason championship favorite, is in danger of missing the Chase. Winless and 11th in the point standings, Edwards needs to win at least one of the next seven races to make the playoffs.
He'll now do so with Chad Norris atop the pit box instead of Osborne, who guided Edwards to 18 Cup wins and a tie for the 2011 championship, which Tony Stewart won on a tiebreaker.
"At this time in my life...concerns with my health have necessitated that I change my role within the organization," Osborne said in a statement. "This transition is not an easy one, but I'm thankful to have the full support of Jack (Roush), Carl and the entire organization. I also have every confidence in Chad Norris, and I look forward to working with him as we continue to pursue a championship in 2012.
"I also appreciate the privacy and respect that the community will give me and my family during this difficult time."
Norris had been doing research and development for Roush Fenway Racing since 2011 and has been a Nationwide and Truck crew chief. He was atop the pit box for Trevor Bayne's Nationwide win at Texas last November and for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s Daytona 500 run this season.
Now, though, he'll have the biggest challenge of his career: Stepping in to replace one of NASCAR's top minds and trying to get Edwards back to Victory Lane for the first time since the March 2011 race at Las Vegas.
"I cannot say enough good things about Bob Osborne," Edwards said. "I'm so thankful for what he's done for me as a driver, and he is without a doubt one of the smartest guys in the sport. I'm also appreciative of the fact that he'll continue to be a resource for me and our team as we focus on these final races.
"We're very fortunate to have Chad Norris as part of our organization to take over for the No. 99. I've known Chad for a long time and he is a fierce competitor. We've got our work cut out for us over the next seven races, and I've got every confidence Chad can lead our team to where we need to be."
Roush said the restructuring of Osborne's role and the timing of Norris' introduction as crew chief "will put us in the best possible position for these final seven races before the Chase begins."