INDIANAPOLIS Taken aback by speculation that his crew chief change largely was made because of the No. 99 teams disappointing performance this season, Carl Edwards spent a good portion of a 20-minute interview session explaining that former crew chief Bob Osborne really is dealing with significant health issues.
Then Edwards was interrupted by some good-natured but still fairly sharp heckling from fellow driver Clint Bowyer, who was sitting nearby.
Hey, Carl! How many different ways can you explain why you fired somebody? Bowyer said.
A day before his first race with new crew chief Chad Norris, Edwards went out of his way to say that team owner Jack Roush made the change last week because of Osbornes ongoing health issues not because the team will enter todays Brickyard 400 ranked 11th in the Sprint Cup points standings.
I cant overstate enough that Bob is a very, very dedicated guy to our sport, and he is going through something right now that would be tough for anyone, Edwards said. And for him to have done what he has done at this level and to have kept it quiet, he is just a tough, tough man. He is a good friend of mine, so I am really thinking a lot of him.
Osborne remains with the team in a management role. But Edwards said Osborne could return as his crew chief once his health issues, which the team has not disclosed, are resolved.
What we are trying to do right now is make the team better and fix any issues we might have, which we dont even know exactly what the issues are, Edwards said. If we dont do any better here, and Bob is up to it, we will probably put Bob right back in as soon as he is able. If this goes well, and Bob is doing well in his new role, and that is the best thing for him, and Chad is doing great, then we will move forward with that.
Nothing is in stone right now. It could be a whole different scenario next week, and we all know that. We are doing everything we can right now to be as good as we can right now.
For now, Edwards is working on establishing a relationship with Norris.
Theyre off to a good start, as Edwards was second in qualifying Saturday.
I think with the structure at Roush and the way we have done things, I dont expect to miss a beat with Chad here, Edwards said. We talked a lot here this last week and even through the off weekend, and I dont think that there is really much of a learning curve.
Edwards did acknowledge the relationship will be different. Osborne has an engineering background, while Norris is more of a traditional crew chief who will rely on the teams engineers for information.
(Osborne) is an engineer, and he stands on his own two feet and does what he thinks is right, and that has given us a huge amount of success, Edwards said. Chad appears to be and I dont know him really well yet (but) the structure seems to be a little different where it will be a standard crew chief-driver combination where he will rely on the engineers more than Bob did because he doesnt have the same engineering background. And I think there will be times where that is better and times where that is worse. I think we will just have to see.
If things dont get fixed quickly, Edwards knows he is in danger of missing out on NASCARs season-ending Chase after losing the title to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker last season.
Chad and I agreed we are putting our feelings aside, Edwards said. We are going to tell each other everything. If I dont like something he is doing, I am going to tell him, and if I am doing something he doesnt like, he is going to tell me. We are going to race hard, communicate, and it doesnt matter. If we like each other, great. If we yell at each other, it doesnt matter. We are going to try to be fast. It seems to be going well so far.
Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said the move could jolt the No. 99 teams performance.
Its tough, but they are at a point and time where they have to do something different, Johnson said. Id imagine that from the final few laps at Homestead until now has been the toughest part. Now theyve probably turned the page and are moving forward with the decisions theyve made. I would assume it brings a little bit of new life and excitement to the program.
Johnson isnt exactly an expert on going through crew chief changes, given his longstanding partnership with Chad Knaus, but he imagines Edwards wont spend much time looking backward.
If I was Carl, its time to look forward, Johnson said. Weve turned the page, weve made the decision, and he had a short period of time to get stuff done for this year. The window is closing. Knowing Carl, hes a strong race car driver, strong-minded good leader and has all the qualities to make the best of this situation he naturally has. Time will tell what really happens, but theyve got to get going, and theyve clearly made the decisions to do that.