NASCAR Sonoma 2014 recap: Carl Edwards sets aside distractions, poor performance

Robert Laberge

Ignoring the speculation over his future with Roush Fenway Racing, Carl Edwards grabbed his first ever win on a road course Sunday.

Within the past few months, Carl Edwards' name is seemingly in the news every day. Unfortunately, little has to do about his performance on the track and more about his future, a source of constant speculation.

Not helping matters is a slump that has inflicted Roush Fenway Racing and left the organization scrambling for answers. The low point occurred just a week before Sonoma at Michigan International Speedway -- long one of Roush's better tracks -- where the team failed to have any of its drivers finish in the top 10 for the first time since 2000.

"I think [the media] worry about that more than we do. We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win the championship. I just have to give the best I can every week, and that's it." -Carl Edwards

Through it all, Edwards has remained optimistic while continually stressing how better times were ahead for Roush, the team Edwards has been with for the past 10 years. And at least for one day he proved prophetic, winning Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

"We've got to go out and take advantage of the places where we run well," Edwards said after winning the 23rd race of his career. "And this year it's been the short tracks, and the road course looks like we've got that program going pretty well.

"From my perspective, what I see as a driver is just everybody working very hard, and we get the results on the days when we can. But I hope it picks up the organization a little bit, this win from last week, because (Michigan) was really the low point of the season in my opinion."

The win not only assures Edwards (who also won in March at Bristol Motor Speedway) a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but showcases why the 34-year-old is the most coveted free agent in NASCAR.

Sonoma is a challenging 12-turn road course requiring precision every lap, as opposed to ovals like Michigan where aerodynamics and engineering are just as vital as the man turning the wheel. Equipment is generally equalized, and the driver's ability is paramount to success. On the tight Northern California track, the deficiencies which have hampered Roush this season were negated.

Edwards was nearly flawless in the final laps, jumping into the lead on a restart with 25 laps to go and then creating some distance between himself and the field. Although he wasn't perfect and locked up the brakes in the last turn on the final lap to allow Jeff Gordon to close in on his bumper, Edwards did enough to grab his first-ever road course victory.

The win also demonstrated Edwards' singular focus and ability to put aside distractions, as an announcement is expected any day confirming his departure from Roush at the end of the year. Edwards tactfully refuses to discuss negotiations publicly, having learned the art of deflecting repeated questions about his future in myriad of ways.

"I think (the media) worry about that more than we do," said Edwards Sunday when asked about his future plans. "We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win the championship. So for me it's really simple: I just have to give the best I can every week, and that's it."

It's a situation that bares resemblance to 2011 when in spite of intense contract negotiations and persistent rumors that he would leave, Edwards nearly won the championship as he finished with as many points as Tony Stewart only to lose on a tiebreaker.

Edwards' likely destination next season is the same organization he was close to signing with three years ago, Joe Gibbs Racing, which will add a fourth car and team Edwards with Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

At JGR, Edwards will join a group whose fleet of Toyotas are consistently among the fastest cars in the garage. Combined, JGR drivers have won 46 races since the start of the 2009 season compared to 21 for Roush. No longer will Edwards be subject to the year-to-year performance swings that have come to mark Roush.

But until the move, Edwards is in limbo; a lame duck driver with a once great team facing great ambiguity whether it will ever reclaim its status as a powerhouse organization.

Through it all, a steadfast Edwards continues to fulfill his declaration that until otherwise stated he is 100 percent a Roush man. The only question is for how much longer.

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