Roush Fenway Racing announced on Tuesday that Bob Osborne had stepped down off of the pit box for Carl Edwards after nearly nine years as the only crew chief Edwards has ever known. That makes room for Chad Norris to take over the helm of the No. 99 Ford with the daunting task of helping Edwards win his way into the Chase. Osborne cited health concerns as the main contributing factor to his decision but looking at it from the outside, the recent unrest and poor performance by race team most certainly has to play a role.
Edwards won the last two races during the 2010 season and ended up fourth in points. That run left everyone who was looking for someone to dethrone Jimmie Johnson looking toward Edwards as the likely candidate. He did not disappoint in 2011, racking up an impressive 19 top 5s and 26 top 10s, including three runner-up finishes to close out the season. As a result he tied for the series championship but lost the tiebreaker of most wins, having only notched one victory all season in the third race of the year. Having gone 33 races without a win to finish off 2011, the notorious runner-up jinx has haunted him for another 19 races in 2012, and the pressure has been continuously mounting on the Osborne / Edwards relationship. With Tuesday’s announcement, it appears the pressure finally caused the duo to succumb.
Edwards sits 11th in the standings but, more importantly, is 54 points outside of the top 10 which means, barring a tremendous rebound over the final seven races before the Chase, his only chance is to win and score a wildcard berth. While it might not seem like a tall order for a driver who ended up tied for the title last season, it is a tough row to hoe for Edwards the way he’s run this season. He has just two top-5 finishes, but they were both fifth place finishes and the last one occurred at Las Vegas in the fifth race of the season. He only has one top 10 since May and that was a ninth at Daytona.
Osborne and Edwards have always been a bit of an odd couple. The gregarious Edwards is constantly glad handing with the media and ribbing Osborne on the radio while Osborne, tremendously talented and intelligent, is as quiet and unassuming as anyone in the garage. However, for almost nine years, it has worked. From 2005 through 2010, the duo notched 18 wins and had the remarkably consistent run to the title tie last year. However, the scrutiny by fans and especially media over the conservative approach last season that ultimately cost the team the title very well added some pressure to the situation. Pile on that the team has had some poor finishes, some bad pit calls and some obvious tension, and the end result is Osborne gets reassigned into the management team at RFR.
As Norris climbs into the hot seat, he doesn’t do it without some credentials. He has led a team in one Cup race, with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. this year. He’s also headed up 50 Nationwide races that have accounted for three wins and 30 top-10 finishes. He has most recently led the R&D efforts at RFR. With chemistry being such a critical element of racing success, and generally taking some time to develop, it will be a daunting task for Norris, but apparently it is a shot that Roush is willing to take with whom many consider to be his top driver.
Loyalty is a rare trait in the world of racing and, as we’ve already seen this season, it is rare at RFR. Osborne has led Edwards to four top 5 point finishes in seven full seasons in the Cup series, including the tie last season, but just 19 races into this year he’s off of the box. It very well could be Osborne’s choice, and who could blame him, but hopefully Edwards and Roush will take some heat for the poor performance in 2012 and not lump it all on Bob’s shoulders. If Edwards does rebound and win a couple of races to make the Chase, it will be at least partly due to the efforts of Osborne, even if he didn’t do much of anything lately.
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