Edwards hopes potential Chase changes could help RFR
January 29, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With their leader, Jack Roush, on a rare Disney vacation, the Roush Fenway Racing team took the stage Wednesday for its turn in the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, upbeat about the upcoming season and ready to embrace change for itself and the sport.
Without a championship for the past nine years, the team is preparing to get on track and redirect its results. As with most drivers during the four days of media interview sessions, this group also had strong opinions about recent changes to qualifying and about possible major restructuring of the championship format.
Roush President Steve Newmark said that although team executives have been trying for decades to get the renowned workaholic Roush to take some time off, it took an ambush Disney vacation from his grandkids to finally sway Roush to follow through.
"We thought about having him Skype with us with his Mickey Mouse ears on," Newmark joked.
Instead, Newmark handled the statistical analysis Roush typically rendered, telling the media his team won three races, qualified two of its three cars (Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle) for the Chase and won Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors with its third driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
"Although I think we recognize that for some teams those would be good statistics and might be a banner year and would be considered a successful year, but, in fact, for us, those are not the statistics by which we measure our performance," Newmark said. "Instead, I'll tell you the very simple numbers by which we measure our performance, and those are nine, 13, and 19. That's where we came in in the Cup standings last year, and I can tell you that if you went to Roush Fenway, walked the halls, and talked to any employee regardless of where they are on the organization chart that they would tell you that that result is actually not acceptable."
Besides the snow blanketing the Southeast and causing a big of havoc on Wednesday in downtown Charlotte, the biggest buzz during the third day of the annual four-day Media Tour centered on possible changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and how NASCAR crowns its champion.
No official details or announcements have been issued. However, it's expected to be discussed in NASCAR Chairman Brian France's annual State of the Sport address to media on Thursday.
A lot of scenarios have been floated, but the prevalent thinking is that a new system would put a significant emphasis on winning races and provide for an elimination-type format during the 10-race Chase.
The Roush Fenway drivers acknowledged they had heard several possibilities, and for the veteran Edwards, it is as much a situation of getting used to "change" itself as it is favoring one format over another.
"I think we just have to make sure whatever structure we use doesn't have an unintended consequence or diminish the champion's achievement," said Edwards, who led the 2013 standings at the end of the regular season, but finished 13th in the Chase.
"You don't want to win 35 races and then have a blown tire in the final race and not win the championship, that would seem kind of an odd juxtaposition as to how we crown champions.
"The only thing that makes this hard is we're not starting from a clean slate," Edwards explained. "What we're doing is saying that from 1955 or whenever the points system started we've gone for basically 50 years with a system and built the sport around that.
"I admire NASCAR for having the guts to say, 'Hey we're going to make this better.' But that's the shift that's hard. The change. Not whether it's right or wrong, but that it's a change.
"You guys know, I want the cars to drive just like they did in 1980. I'm that guy, no downforce, I'm an old school guy. But I have to admit if this goes the way NASCAR sees it going, it could be extremely exciting. It could be amazing."
The longer Edwards spoke to reporters, the more he seemed to reconcile the idea of a Homestead winner-take-all scenario that is among those being floated.
Roush Fords have won seven of 15 Homestead races -- including wins by Biffle three times and Edwards twice.
"I don't think any team has a better record at Homestead," Edwards said smiling. "I guess I should be really fighting for that. I think if every season was determined by who won Homestead, we'd have some championships right now. That's something we know as a team, there's an advantage for us."
While Edwards said he understands why NASCAR wants to re-emphasize victory, he also stressed that technical modifications to the car will increase the on-track product and feels that's an easy starting position -- something NASCAR has already indicated will be an evolving element.
"No one strives for consistency," Edwards said. "You race your guts out and if you can't win you have to be smart and get the best finish you can. It's only going to benefit the sport to make winning much more important. That's a motivator.
"You can't take the top-15 drivers and make them race any harder for wins. So any format we race under, I can't try harder. Everybody's already doing that. What we have to focus on as a sport is making sure the cars can race well.
"That's the key. To me, that means taking downforce away, making tires softer, taking away aerodynamics. Then no matter what format we have we'll have guys racing each other door-to-door, nose-to-tail bumping into one another."
But above all, "Whatever it is that we do, I hope we stick with it for a long time because I think that gives it credibility inherently to not have something changing all the time," Edwards said.
"That's sports though. At the end of the day, no professional sport seems to be set up to crown the best person over the whole year. It's an elimination process that culminates in a champion. There's probably a good reason for that.
"You've got to perform when the pressure it on. And this will change things a lot. It changes the way you race."
"And," Edwards said emphatically, "I still haven't sat down with NASCAR. I've got to be clear, the whole reason we're all here and I have a job is that NASCAR's done a really good job since 1948 of making this sport entertaining to a whole lot of people."