HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Carl Edwards scrolled across a stage at Joe Gibbs Racing and jokingly yelled, `Surprise!’
There was no surprise whatsoever about his formal introduction Tuesday as a fourth driver in the JGR Sprint Cup lineup. The move had been expected since at least May and intensified last month when Roush Fenway Racing said Edwards was not returning in 2015.
Edwards, who has driven for Roush for 12 years, will join a new fourth Toyota team for Gibbs next season. The No. 19 will be sponsored by Arris, a telecommunications company, in 17 of the races.
JGR has been at three cars since 2005 and has held off expanding to the NASCAR-maximum of four full-time entries.
“We felt like if we could get Carl, and we could get another sponsor, that this was the right time,” Gibbs said.
Edwards had been through a high-profile free agency once before, in 2011 when he was in the thick of the championship hunt. He ultimately spurned JGR in that bidding process to sign an extension with Roush, and although the negotiations were never a distraction, Edwards lost the title that year to Tony Stewart on a tie-breaker.
Edwards hasn’t been a title threat since. He went winless in 2012 and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and although he made two trips to Victory Lane last season, he finished last in the 13-driver Chase field.
Edwards is currently ninth in the Cup standings with two wins. The Chase begins next month, and he said he’s determined to close out his Roush tenure with a championship for the No. 99 team. But when the season is over, his focus will quickly turn to JGR, where he saw an opportunity for stability and consistency as a teammate to Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to shake things up, you’ve got to do things differently,” Edwards said. “When an opportunity like this comes up and the all the pieces come together this perfectly, for me, I didn’t want to look back and wonder what that would have been like. I wanted to take the opportunity and go see what I could make of it.”
Edwards will be reunited with Kenseth, who was his teammate at Roush for nine seasons and had a frosty relationship that went public in 2007 when Edwards confronted Kenseth after a race at Martinsville.
Kenseth moved to JGR last season, won a series-high seven races and finished second in the championship race. Gibbs said Kenseth is the first person the organization consulted when it entered the bidding for Edwards.
“Matt was awesome, he said, `this guy, you get him over here, he’s going to win races. He’ll be a good teammate and he’s really, really good with sponsors,’ ” Gibbs said. “So Matt was the first person we talked to, and then we went to Denny and we went to Kyle. Because it is teamwork. This sport is unusual because you have to work together to get better, to get more information, to have more input on the weekend. We think this is the right combination for us.”
Kenseth said the history between he and Edwards is overblown, and much has changed since 2007. Edwards has gotten married and the two drivers have had five children between them.
“Carl and I get along fine,” he said. “That relationship has changed a lot through the years. Him having kids the same age as my kids, and playing together, has probably made us more friends and made us do things together. I think it will be a good mix, I really do.”
Edwards said he’s changed as a person since he first entered NASCAR and is focused on being an asset at JGR.
“I have learned a lot about how to be a good teammate. Admittedly, I was not the best teammate at the beginning of my career,” he said. “I felt I had a lot of the `every man for himself’ attitude, and wanting to prove myself regardless of any damage to the relationships.
“I really value my teammates now. I’m going to do everything I can to be the best teammate I can be, to contribute to the group so that overall we can be better. When I look around at who does well in the sport, it seems the people who do that well succeed.”
JGR also announced Tuesday that Daniel Suarez will run a full Nationwide Series program and part-time Truck Series schedule 2015. The truck entry will be fielded by Kyle Busch Motorsports. Suarez becomes the first full-time Mexican driver in NASCAR.
JGR is also launching a diversity initiative along with Escuderia Telmex, which is led by Carlos Slim, one of the richest people in the world, to give Mexican and Latin American drivers opportunities in the NASCAR Toyota Series in Mexico.