Top NASCAR Stories of 2014: No. 11 – Carl Edwards leaves Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing

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MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we’re at No. 11 and how Carl Edwards became the second driver to leave Roush Fenway Racing in three seasons, and followed former teammate Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing …

Carl Edwards knows all about the greener pastures that surrounded the town he grew up in, Columbia, Missouri.

He’d just have to drive maybe 10 minutes and he’d quickly transition from downtown Columbia to the rural area that surrounded it.

When Edwards appeared to stagnate at Roush Fenway Racing, the only Sprint Cup organization he’s known, he came to a career crossroads this past season.

Either he sign another contract renewal with RFR, or see if there might be a greener pasture elsewhere. After being wooed by several teams, Edwards made the ultimate decision to leave RFR and cast his fate beginning in the 2015 season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Edwards became the second former RFR driver to jump from there to JGR. Matt Kenseth did the same after the 2012 season. And in Kenseth’s first season with JGR in 2013, he earned a career-best and season-high seven wins.

Where Edwards was going – if he was going to go anywhere – was speculated about by fans and the media from the beginning part of the 2014 season. For months, Edwards kept denying rumors that he was going to this team or that team.

But in the end, he elected to move on and it will be interesting to see how he fits in at what he hopes will indeed be a greener pasture for him and his career – particularly the opportunity to win that long-elusive first Sprint Cup championship.

Edwards has been close to a title before. He actually tied Tony Stewart for the championship in 2011, only to lose the crown on the first tie-breaker, namely wins that season (Stewart had five, Edwards just one).

He went into somewhat of a tailspin the following two seasons, missing the Chase in 2012 and finishing last in the 2013 playoff field.

Edwards had been down this road before. He could have left after his last contract expired at the end of 2011, but chose to renew and remain with RFR for another three years.

This time, though, the 11-year Cup veteran chose to move on.

Edwards had a decent enough final season with RFR, winning two races (at Bristol and his first road course triumph at Sonoma), and adding seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. But he also struggled, ultimately making the Chase, he failed to advance to the title-deciding Championship 4 Round, ultimately finishing ninth in the final standings.

It wasn’t just Edwards who seemed to be searching for additional horsepower, it was the entire RFR team. Greg Biffle made the Chase, but was quickly eliminated. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was never much of a factor in the season, finishing 27th in his sophomore campaign in Sprint Cup after winning back-to-back Nationwide Series titles.

How Edwards performs in 2015 is obviously anyone’s guess, but he certainly has the organization and the resources to succeed.

“To be able to bring a driver the caliber of Carl Edwards on board to launch our fourth team is just a thrill,” team owner Joe Gibbs said.

And in an ironic twist of fate, the crew chief that helped beat him in 2011, Darian Grubb, is now Edwards’ crew chief going forward at JGR.

Grubb led Tony Stewart to the championship in 2011, only to be dismissed immediately afterward. JGR picked up Grubb and he was Denny Hamlin’s crew chief the past three seasons, including getting Hamlin into the championship round.

But JGR decided to switch half its crew chief lineup around and Edwards will now have Grubb atop his pit box for the No. 19 JGR Toyota. The way we look at it, it’s a move for the better for Edwards, Grubb and Hamlin.

An interesting statistic about Edwards is he’s the fifth-winningest driver in the Cup series since 2005, with three of those top five, including Edwards, being JGR drivers: Jimmie Johnson is first (55 wins), followed by Kyle Busch (29), Tony Stewart (29), Denny Hamlin (24) and Edwards (23).

“For 10 years, I’ve worked as hard as I can … everyone has worked as hard as they can to go win championships,” Edwards said when he announced he was moving to JGR. “And that is my goal. I felt like, at this time in my life and career, a change might be something that would let me reach that goal.”

In addition to Edwards moving on, his former crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, also decided the time was right to move on, as well – as in onto semi-retirement.

Fennig, who won the first Nextel Cup (now Sprint Cup) championship with Kurt Busch in 2004, will remain a part-time consultant to RFR.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter