Edwards joins a number of NASCAR drivers in leaving “home” for fresh challenge

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Kevin Harvick at Childress. Matt Kenseth at Roush. Joey Logano at Gibbs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. at DEI. And countless others.

All were staples in their first organizations as they entered the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as they contended for titles and grew as drivers, and as people.

But almost no good thing lasts forever, and as time passes, drivers often need to leave the team that provided them their upbringing for greener pastures and a fresh start.

The last two years, Harvick and Kenseth have capitalized on their change of scenery.

For Harvick, a 13-year stint at Richard Childress Racing brought many wins and several top-five finishes in the championship, but no titles. There were a handful of moments of dysfunction along the way, but Harvick remained committed during his final season, even knowing he was leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing this year.

Kenseth spent his upbringing and his first 13 seasons at Roush Racing, which then became Roush Fenway, with a 2003 title under his belt. But he soon saw the positives that could come with a switch – the timing was right at Gibbs when Logano, who hadn’t maximized his potential at JGR, left the team and headed to Team Penske. Kenseth nearly won the title in his first season at Gibbs, as a regular race winner, and runner-up in the 2013 championship.

Logano, who’s still only 24, has flourished at Penske the last two seasons. It’s taken a bit longer for Earnhardt Jr. to hit his stride at Hendrick, but in 2014, he’s in the midst of his best season in the last decade, and a serious title contender.

Which brings us nicely to Carl Edwards, whose long-awaited move from Roush to Gibbs – where he will reunite with former teammate Kenseth – was officially announced this morning.

Edwards raced for Roush in the Nationwide and Truck ranks before moving up midway through 2004 to the Cup level, then replacing Jeff Burton. By 2005, he was already a race winner and title contender. He’s been a consistent title contender for most of the last decade, but for various reasons, has never quite been able to seal the deal.

He’s flirted with the move away from Roush before. Edwards joked to Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer during Tuesday’s press conference, “I’d like to thank you for breaking this story three years ago.”

But Edwards, the 2014 version, is almost at a point where he had to move.

Certain teams have a way of ebbing and flowing within the NASCAR garage, and to put it succinctly, Roush Fenway has been on a downhill trend for the last several years. We chronicled the fall-off period earlier this year.

Edwards either had the choice of staying put and continuing with RFR, or grasp a well-timed new opportunity that will allow him a new period of growth with teammates Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

Gibbs, too, is Toyota’s leading organization – Roush had fallen behind Penske in the Ford pecking order and performance charts of late.

“I’ve spent my career as a driver there for 10 years,” Edwards said. “At this time in my life, my career, this is something that would let me reach my goal. I have had some amazing conversations. Looking across the landscape of the sport, everyone’s spoken to Joe, JD and this organization and what they can achieve. For all the good things, I’m very excited to work with them.”

Kenseth’s 2013 success after switching caught Edwards’ eye.

“To be honest, Matt’s sucesss was a big eye opener for me,” Edwards said. “Being able to be around new guys and learn from them. Like I said earlier, I just felt it was time to change. For me, this is something, I woke up this morning and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

We’ll see how revitalized Edwards will be come 2015 in his new digs.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.