Did You Notice?… Chad Norris wasn’t informed he would be Carl Edwards’ new crew chief until yesterday morning? That’s the biggest nugget from Tuesday’s big surprise, No. 99 head wrench Bob Osborne stepping down after spending more than eight of the past nine seasons atop that pit box. That alone should tell you this decision was not as pre-planned as some out in the racing world might surmise. Yes, the duo had been having a bad season together but as recently as Kentucky, after poor pit strategy doomed them both sides were adamant about the pairing continuing over the long-term. Edwards and Osborne have always been close, the outgoing driver a perfect match for the introverted, ultra-intelligent engineer who brought them within one position on the racetrack of a championship last season. Consistently, through the years Edwards has told me in interviews how much their relationship has been the key to remaining at or near the top of the Cup Series. So, until all the facts come out, or sources explain differently let’s take the press release at its word and wish Osborne well while dealing with undisclosed, health-related issues behind the scenes.
How will Norris do when pressed into his new role? That’s hard to tell. Despite crew chief experience with multiple teams, they’ve all been in the Nationwide Series and the Research & Development specialist has never assumed the position full-time. To his credit, he’s worked with some of RFR’s best; in 2005, he led Matt Kenseth to Victory Lane at Darlington in the Nationwide Series shortly after inheriting the crew chief job from Cully Barraclough. Norris has also worked with Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin, and Trevor Bayne, winning with the youngster at Texas last Fall to give him a well-rounded list. Yeah, there’s also some clunkers in there (Todd Kluever anyone? Colin Braun?) but that diverse group of personalities should give Norris the experience needed to make this transition smoothly.
The question now is how quickly he can turn “smooth” into instant success with a crew that seems to be doubting itself. Edwards is now in a position where his back is against the wall; almost certainly, two wins will be needed to secure a “wild card” spot otherwise he’ll need to make it in on points. That’s a daunting task considering Keselowski in front of him is red hot; realistically, he’ll need to catch a winless Martin Truex, Jr. who is 50 points ahead to take a Chase bid. It’ll mean gaining an average of over seven points a race, with seven races remaining and that’s almost certainly going to mean top-5 finishes in almost all of them to get it done. It’s a daunting proposition for a “new hire;” no mistakes, otherwise your driver misses the Chase and oh, yeah the status quo just isn’t good enough.
How will Edwards react? He’s a driver who admittedly struggled the last time Osborne left, in 2006 but has clearly learned from that experience. There’s no doubt he’ll be on board helping Norris success; the problem will be the time crunch and outside pressure to make the postseason. No doubt, Norris will have to make it in order to automatically secure the job for 2013; anything less, and it’s just a temporary fix until Roush can figure something out – hiring a bigger name for the top superstar sitting on his roster.
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