Up for the challenge

Carl Edwards prepares for his new opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Up for the challenge
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota leads the field
Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch
Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Polesitter Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Joe Gibbs
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Carl Edwards with Jack Roush
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Victory lane: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2011 champion Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet celebrates with crew chief Darian Grubb
Darian Grubb, crew chief for Denny Hamlin
Jack Roush and Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Carl Edwards and his wife Kate
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Race winner Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford with Jack Roush
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford

The addition of Carl Edwards to an already formidable trio at Joe Gibbs Racing will produce a driver lineup that is arguably the most talented, top to bottom, in the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage.

Certainly, Hendrick Motorsports drivers collectively have more wins and titles--a lot more. Stewart-Haas Racing boasts three champions – including defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick. Although Team Penske is a formidable opponent and perennial contender, the odds favor a four-car team. And with all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers finishing among the top 10 in the 2014 final points standings, and with those drivers featuring an average age of just 35, Toyota’s flagship organization has plenty of blue sky above.

“I’m really excited,” Edwards said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “To work with Matt (Kenseth), a champion, a guy who is as good as anyone who as ever driven one of these cars. To work with Kyle Busch, who is probably one of if not the most talented guys in the garage. Denny Hamlin, a guy who flies under the radar a lot but if you look at his stats and what he’s been able to do, he’s an amazing driver. He’s very analytical, just the little bit I’ve been in meetings with him. He’s a guy that brings up things that I haven’t heard other people bring up, about lines and the way the car feels and stuff.

“So to be able to work with these guys, I come in with the intention to add to that as much as I can and to learn as much as I can from these guys. Our whole Arris team, I feel like we can win a championship. But for us to be the best that we can be, we’re going to have to lean on our teammates. It’s a stout roster. There’s nobody better in the garage.”

A new approach

For Edwards, 35, that will mean being a better teammate himself. After Jack Roush released Jeff Burton in favor Edwards midway through the 2004 season, the driver never had to worry about anyone but himself. Edwards was already familiar with the Roush Fenway Racing systems and at 25, he had plenty of racing ahead of him.

Now, a decade later, after a couple of close runs at the Cup title, Edwards realizes the value of playing nice with others.

I feel like this is an opportunity for me to be a better teammate than I’ve been before.

Carl Edwards

“I’m going into this a little differently…I’m looking at them differently than I’ve looked at my teammates before,” Edwards said. “The reason for that, I feel like this is a second opportunity for me. I feel like this is an opportunity for me to be a better teammate than I’ve been before. I feel like I respect and appreciate what my teammates do more now than I ever have. I look at this as an opportunity.”

Getting to know you

And what an opportunity it is. After watching his former Roush teammate Kenseth jump ship two years ago - when Edwards had been offered the same chance one year earlier, he realized that perhaps the grass was indeed greener at Joe Gibbs Racing. 

Then there’s the "curious" case of Edwards’ new crew chief Darian Grubb. He has been intrigued – and somewhat enamored – with the engineer, who along with Tony Stewart, defeated Edwards and the No. 99 Ford’s title run in 2011 on a tiebreaker. During the team’s first outing together at a Goodyear tire test at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month, Grubb exceeded Edwards’ expectations.

I’ve been curious about Darian and how he does things just because when you battle someone that close, like we battled, I gained a lot of respect for him, he and Tony both in that battle.

Carl Edwards

“Obviously, Darian was the guy that beat me and Bob (Osborne, crew chief) in 2011,” Edwards said. “He and Tony did an amazing job. I’ve always wondered about him. I’ve been curious about Darian and how he does things just because when you battle someone that close, like we battled, I gained a lot of respect for him, he and Tony both in that battle. So getting to work with him, I had really high expectations. And I’m telling you, in the first hour – in the first 30 minutes of being on the racetrack and talking to him – he is spectacular. He is extremely intelligent.

“To me, I haven’t figured him out yet. I haven’t been around him enough to know a lot about Darian but it appears that he’s going to be just as good or better as anyone I’ve ever worked with – and I’ve worked with some amazing guys. I’ve worked with Robbie Reiser and Bob Osborne, Jimmy Fennig. You know Bob and Jimmy, to me, they’re so great and they’re great in different ways, it will be neat to see how Darian is different from those guys.”

By the seat of your pants

As for a different feel behind the wheel in his new No. 19 Arris Toyota compared to the Fords, Edwards said the test “wasn’t really a good measuring stick” due to the lack of cars on the race track, an altered aerodynamics package and a new style seat.

“There was less difference than I expected there to be,” Edwards said. “I didn’t have any other cars out there to race against and I also changed seats. I’m trying a carbon fiber for the first time. I’ve had great luck with the Butlerbuilt seats. They’ve been amazing. But for everybody in our shop, they want everybody to be in the same seats. So we worked on the seats a ton. Sean Kerlin (tire specialist) and the guys worked really hard to make me comfortable.

“So I really couldn’t tell, having a different seat than what I’m used to, exactly, the differences in the cars yet.”

Beginning again

Only four cars driven by Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sam Hornish Jr. and Paul Menard tested the new, lower downforce rules package which will debut when the Sprint Cup tour races at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1. Edwards compared the feel of the modifications to how “the car felt like 10 years ago” – and that favors his driving style.

With the cars to his liking and strong team in his corner, Edwards is anxious for the 2015 season to begin.

I think being comfortable is a bad thing for performance.

Carl Edwards

“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of new things to learn. Our test the other day, I felt like it was the first time in one of these cars. I felt a lot of pressure. And I think that’s good for me. I think being comfortable is a bad thing for performance. Hopefully, this makes me better.

“I believe the people that we have around this 19 team are going to be amazing. Everybody, Darian, all of the crew guys, the engineers, the folks from TRD, it just seems amazing. So, I can’t wait for the season to start. It’s like Christmas.”

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