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IS CARL EDWARDS THE NEXT DRIVER TO ENJOY SUCCESS IN HIS FIRST YEAR WITH A NEW TEAM?
Changing teams is a way of life in professional sports, but a move always comes with a risk as to whether it will be the right one for their career.
That rang true for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Carl Edwards last year when he was weighing the options of leaving Roush Fenway Racing and joining Joe Gibbs Racing for 2015 and beyond. One noteworthy item supporting such a move from the team that gave him his start in 2004 in Sprint Cup was the recent success of drivers in their first year with their new teams.
They were several examples, including one that was the identical move from Roush Fenway to Joe Gibbs Racing. Clint Bowyer had a career year after joining Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012. Matt Kenseth won a career-high seven races after joining Gibbs from RFR in 2013 and Joey Logano, the driver he replaced, enjoyed a successful first season at Team Penske.
This trend dates to 2008 when Kyle Busch won a career-high eight races in his first year with Gibbs after exiting from Hendrick Motorsports. Tony Stewart followed suit the next season, winning four times in his first season with newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing.
Last year, a pair of drivers took advantage of their first seasons with new teams. Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Cup championship with Stewart-Haas while Ryan Newman finished second in the standings in his first season with Richard Childress Racing.
Edwards was aware of this history of success and it was apparent that he was making the right move by signing with JGR.
“Obviously it was the toughest decision I’ve made in my life, but I looked around at all these guys who were making changes and doing very well,” Edwards said. “You take Tony Stewart’s change. When he left Joe Gibbs Racing, I thought that was crazy, that didn’t seem like it made any sense, but it spurred great performance.
“Joey Logano made a change, huge performance. At the same time, Matt Kenseth came over and filled his seat and his performance went through the roof. Kevin and Ryan basically switched teams and they finished 1-2 (in points).”
Why do top drivers suddenly excel with brand-new teams or different organizations? Among the many theories, Harvick says it’s simple. It generally comes down to being happy and getting a fresh start.
Many drivers like Harvick enjoyed success with their previous teams, but over the years grow weary of the same struggles and shortcomings of those teams. Over time, the direction of the team can change as well and that may not sit well with a driver who has been in one place for an extended period of time.
“I was just tired of going to work,” Harvick said of the move. “I didn’t like my job, and that’s not a healthy way to be productive in this environment because it takes a lot of work and effort to be competitive and there are going to be ups and downs and a lot of things emotionally to deal with.
“So if you have a bad attitude about the things that are around you and that are going on, you are not going to win. You are not going to beat the guys that you race against on a weekly basis unless you have your whole life in order, whether it is racing, your attitude, financials, whatever it may be. That whole circle of life has to be together to be successful.”
Harvick found what he was looking for at Stewart-Haas, which is co-owned by good friend Tony Stewart.
“To come over here and be with this group of people was very refreshing for me and very motivating,” said Harvick, who matched his career high with five wins en route to his first Cup championship last year.
When Kenseth moved from Roush to Gibbs, he was in a similar situation to Harvick. He was successful in winning races, but was never contending for the Cup title.
“If a driver makes the decision that they want to go somewhere else, more times than not, they feel like it’s going to be an upgrade or they wouldn’t go,” Kenseth said. “In my situation, I felt extremely confident about (the move to Gibbs) from the first time we talked about it and I saw what was going on over there. I felt real good about it and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
“I think sometimes you just mix it up a little bit and get a different mix of guys and different mix of ideas and organization and sometimes it might just fit you better.”
A fresh start also is something that a driver can be looking for when they think about changing teams, according to Newman.
“It created a lot of extra drive and desire in me personally to do better with a new organization, with a new relationship,” Newman said.
That newness also trickles down to everyone in the shop and on the team. It creates a positive attitude and optimism that tends to fade over time.
“There are no (hard) feelings within the team,” Busch said after a driver makes a move to a new team. “You come over and everybody is pumped up and everybody is excited and all that stuff. You haven’t hurt anybody’s feelings yet. You haven’t said something across the radio that hurts all those situations.
“As you grow relationships with people, sometimes it gets dull and you just kind of get stagnant in your ways and you don’t really go anywhere.”
A new team also can bring a sense of the unknown, making a driver nervous as they are about to embark on a new phase of their career. Edwards admits to feeling some anxiety. But he’s anxious to see if he can follow the pattern and have the same first-year success.
“I didn’t understand that until we first made the announcement and I got that feeling of, man, I’ve got to go prove myself, that little bit of insecurity that every driver walks around with for a long time,” he said. “I haven’t had that feeling for a while and I’m curious to see if that’s it. Either way, I hope I can do the same thing those guys have done and have a great year.”
Most are betting he will. Harvick already has tabbed Edwards as one of the favorites to win the championship.
“I think Carl will have success,” Busch said of his new JGR teammate. “Obviously, new is exciting and I think there is something to be said for what I had and Kevin had, Matt had and what Carl hopefully has.”