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.

IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.