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Edwards expects smooth transition with Norris

July 28, 2012, David Caraviello,

No. 99 driver looking ahead with new crew chief, maybe back to Osborne one day

INDIANAPOLIS -- Carl Edwards doesn't expect to miss a beat.

Eleventh in Sprint Cup points but on the outside looking in at the potential Chase field, Edwards comes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a new crew chief who has called only one previous race at NASCAR's top level. And yet he doesn't expect much of a transition period for Chad Norris, who last week replaced longtime signal-caller Bob Osborne for reasons related to performance, as well as Osborne's health.

"[Chad has] ... headed up so many different projects, he's been around the sport for a long time. I didn't understand his experience, and it's pretty extensive."


Edwards and Osborne were together for nearly nine years, and almost claimed the championship last season. But the No. 99 car hasn't won a race this season, leaving the series runner-up from 2011 in danger of missing the Chase this year. Last week, Roush Fenway announced that Osborne was stepping off the pit box and would be replaced by Norris, who had previously led the team's research and development department.

"I really think with the structure at Roush and the way that we've done things, I don't expect to really miss a beat with Chad here," Edwards said Saturday. "We talked a lot this last week and even through the off weekend, and I don't think that there's really much of a learning curve. Chad works so well with all the guys.

"He's worked in the R&D department and headed up so many different projects, he's been around the sport for a long time. That's something I didn't realize about Chad. I didn't understand his experience, and it's pretty extensive. I think the kind of guy he seems to be, and the way the guys have embraced him, I feel like we're going to be pretty good. I don't think it should be a big hiccup."

It was the kind of shakeup the No. 99 team likely needed, given that Edwards has led laps in only two races this year. But the driver said the move was partially dictated by an undisclosed health issue suffered by Osborne, whom Edwards said could not have continued in his current role. Edwards was aware his crew chief was battling something, but didn't know the extent until he sat down with Osborne and car owner Jack Roush before the move was made. Osborne has since been reassigned to Roush Fenway's executive steering committee.

"I was really surprised when Bob sat down and talked to us about the things he's gone through," Edwards said. "He is a very tough man. He is a very dedicated individual. I think any of us standing here, it would be hard to say with confidence that we'd have been able to do what he was doing with what he's going through, be able to perform the way he has. But over the year, 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. We all just sat down on Monday [of last week] and talked about it, and Bob let us in on what was going on with him, and all three of us -- me and Bob and Jack -- decided this would be the best course of action for the 99 team, for Bob, for everyone."

The Roush team hasn't specified Osborne's health issue, and neither would Edwards. "First of all, he won't exactly tell me all the details of what's going on," the driver said. "Secondly, it's his issue. If he wants to talk about it, he'll talk about it. As far as I know, he's going to be fine. It's just ... I don't think it would have been possible for him to continue in the capacity that he was in."

Enter Norris, who has extensive crew chief in the Nationwide Series, and oversaw Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s 20th-place finish in the Daytona 500 this season. Although Edwards was aware of Norris, he didn't know his new crew chief's background. "No slight to him. I just had no clue he was sitting there waiting [and] ready for something like this," Edwards said. The driver also left open the possibility that Osborne might return to the No. 99 pit box one day, should his health improve and things not turn around under Norris.

"Everybody knows that what we're trying to do right now is make the team better, and to fix any issues we might have," Edwards said. "... If we don't do any better here, and Bob's up to it, we'll probably put Bob right back in as soon as he's able. But if this goes well -- if Bob's doing well in his new role and that's the best thing for him, and Chad's doing great -- we'll move forward doing this. Nothing is in stone right now. It could be a whole different scenario next week. Everybody knows that. We're just doing all that we can right now to be as good as we can right now."

In the meantime, though, the goal is to squeeze as much as possible out of the final seven regular-season races in order to make the Chase. Jimmie Johnson has never been through a crew chief change, but he's been through plenty of championship campaigns, and he wonders if the shakeup might help the No. 99 team distance itself just a little more from the near-miss to Tony Stewart in last year's title run.

"They're at a point and time where they have to do something different," Johnson said. "I'd imagine that the final few laps at Homestead until now have been the toughest part, and now they've probably turned the page and are moving forward with the decisions they've made. I would assume it brings a little bit of new life and excitement to the program. I've always admired Carl and Bob in the respect they've had for one another and the way they've dealt with tough times in the past. I think they did a great job here, and a decision's been made. I'm just assuming that if I was in that position and I was Carl, it's time to look forward. We've turned the page, we've made a decision and there's a short period of time to get things done for this year. The window's closing."

Edwards clearly hopes to make a big splash with Norris at Indianapolis. Kevin Harvick, who has been through mid-season crew chief changes, said things might take longer. "Obviously, the first weeks that you make a crew chief change you want to come out and make something happen to perform," he said. "So everybody will be doing everything they can this week. But, usually, it takes four or five weeks to see how things are going to go."

If he wants to make another run at the championship, Edwards doesn't have the luxury of waiting that long.

"We know what's on the line," he said. "We saw with what [Stewart's] team did last year that if we can make the Chase, we can turn this thing around and go win the championship. Each one of these races is as important as Homestead was last year. We feel like with our experience that we can go out there and do this, and we know what's at stake. I think those are the motivating factors, not simply the crew chief change. I think it's the entre package. We have to perform now."