Michigan considered last hurrah for Edwards
August 15, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Carl Edwards' past and future are intersecting here in the Irish Hills.
At Michigan International Speedway, long a stronghold for both Roush Fenway Racing and manufacturer Ford, the driver is balancing both the weighted expectations of driving the No. 99 at this particular facility and knowing it's the last time he will do so.
We know Edwards will not return to Roush Fenway Racing next year, and likely won't be in a Ford. It is believed that Edwards, who confirmed last month at Indianapolis that his deal for 2015 is "done," will join Joe Gibbs Racing -- the team has scheduled an "unprecedented announcement" for Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET that will be streamed live on NASCAR.com.
So consider this a last hurrah of sorts from the driver who made his very debut at this track, in this race, exactly 10 years ago.
"There is a lot of pride for me to be driving the Ford EcoBoost Fusion here in Ford's backyard and Jack Roush's backyard -- to be able to come here and drive that car means a lot to me. It was 10 years ago this weekend that I got my start in this series … it makes me feel really old," said Edwards, who coincidentally turned 35 on Friday. "For us, this would be a great place to get a win."
Edwards has two of those already, at Bristol and Sonoma, but there is perhaps no other track on the circuit where a victory would be as meaningful.
A quick walk through the garage indicates the enormity of the ties between this facility and both Ford and team owner Jack Roush. Roush Fenway Racing and Roush Industries shirts are well represented among fans and visiting executives, as is the familiar blue and white Ford logo.
It makes sense. This sweeping 2-mile facility is located approximately 65 miles from Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, where Ford's headquarters remain after an economic disaster in 2008 nearly sent the city into ruins before its recent revival.
And it is very much a revival that Edwards and his fellow RFR contingent are looking for after a subpar showing in the series' first visit in June. All three drivers were off in the speed department, with Greg Biffle finishing a team-high 20th. Edwards finished 23rd and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 27th.
The organization decided to test at Michigan, despite it being a stronghold, and the results paid off early Friday. Edwards was second in the first practice with a speed of 204.111 mph, Stenhouse was fifth (203.229 mph) and Biffle was eighth at 202.817 mph. All three drivers will start Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the top 11.
"For us, there is no place where there is more pride in winning as a driver for Roush Fenway," Edwards said. "From the performance side, the first race here we were not the way we needed to be. We have hopefully stepped it up. If there is a Roush Fenway driver standing in Victory Lane it will be the biggest win of the year for our team."
His current team and his current manufacturer remains Edwards' focus, although he's been pestered about his future plans all season. That was again the case Friday, to which Edwards offered: "I can't really talk about next Tuesday (JGR's announcement) yet. I am not really up to speed about what all has been said or what I am supposed to say."
He'll have plenty to divulge about his future at some point. If it happens to be next week, perhaps talk about the next step in his career -- and life -- will come on the heels of a victory that will perfectly bookend his Michigan tenure with the No. 99 team.
"Right now my goal is to go represent Ford and drive as hard as I can for Jack Roush the same way I always have and to get us a championship," Edwards said. "That would be I guess extra special to be able to do that right now (at Michigan)."