Former Roush Fenway Racing crew chief Bob Osborne had legitimate health issues that helped caused his departure, driver Carl Edwards insisted on Saturday.
Edwards, speaking to reporters at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also said he could reunite with Osborne as soon as next season if the crew chief felt better and new crew chief Chad Norris didn't work out.
Those were two of the key points Edwards made during a news conference that lasted more than 20 minutes, one in which Edwards talked extensively about what led to Osborne's departure.
Following the New Hampshire race, Roush Fenway announced Osborne was stepping aside as crew chief due to health reasons. But given Edwards' fading Chase hopes after being the preseason favorite – and missing last year's championship by a single point – some speculated the "poor health" was a cover for poor performance.
Not true, Edwards said.
"I know a couple of you guys have insinuated this health thing isn't as big as it seems," Edwards said. "But I cannot tell you guys – I can't overrstate it – that Bob is a very, very dedicated guy to our sport and he's going through something right now that would be tough for anyone. For him to have done what he's done at this level and to have kept it quiet, he's just a tough, tough man."
Edwards said he would not elaborate on Osborne's issues – and said the former crew chief wouldn't even tell the driver exactly how he's feeling – but said the illness was not life-threatening.
"As far as I know, he's going to be fine," Edwards said. "It's just I don't think it would have been possible for him to continue in the capacity he was in."
On the Monday following the New Hampshire race, Edwards said he sat down with Osborne and team owner Jack Roush and discussed what was going on. The driver had been somewhat aware of Osborne's health issues, he said, but "didn't know the extent of them and how much was going to impact him."
Once Osborne laid it out, all parties felt it was best for everyone – not only the ill crew chief, but the struggling team – to go in a different direction for now.
"We obviously haven't been as good as we were last year, and more importantly, we weren't as good as we should be compared to our teammates," Edwards said. "... If we knew we were going to make this change, we probably would have made it earlier. But pressure makes diamonds sometimes, so hopefully it works."
Edwards also insisted – again – that the disappointment of last year's championship loss had nothing to do with how the team was performing this season.
"Everybody else thinks they know better than me – and I guess they may – but I'm telling you guys, 100 percent, I don't think last year had an effect on how fast or slow we're going at these races," he said.
Norris now steps in, and Edwards expressed confidence in a crew chief who has little experience atop the pit box at the Cup level. Norris had mostly worked in Roush Fenway's research and development department. The team will need to put together "perfect races" in an attempt to try and make the Chase, Edwards said.
"I don't expect to really miss a beat with Chad," he said. "We talked a lot this last week...even through the off-weekend. I don't think there's really much of a learning curve. ... I don't think it should be a big hiccup."
There's one main difference between Osborne and Norris, though: While Osborne made decisions from an engineering standpoint, Norris does not have that background. As such, he may call races a little differently.
"He's not worried about things maybe Bob was worried about," Edwards said. "He's going to go do what he thinks is best based on his strengths, and he's going to rely on these other guys.
"If anything, I'm curious about Sunday and how it's going to go. You might tune into our radio. Who knows what we'll be doing? We might be misunderstanding and yelling back and forth, but I think it's going to go pretty well."
And if it doesn't work out and Edwards can't get the requisite race wins he needs to make the Chase? It's probable Osborne and Edwards could reunite in the future, he said.
"Everybody knows right now we're trying to fix any issues we might have," Edwards said. "... If we don't do any better here and Bob is up to it, we'll probably put Bob right back in as soon as he's able. If this goes well and Bob doing best in new role and that's what's best for him and Chad is doing great, we'll move forward doing this.
"Nothing is in stone right now. ... Everything we can right now to be as good as we can right now."