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Edwards drives up free-agent market interest

By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel

Winning the 23rd race of his Cup career wasn't exactly a milestone for Carl Edwards, but it definitely is more of a celebratory moment that extends beyond Victory Lane.

Edwards is in the NASCAR version of the Twilight Zone. He is a man without a team next season - in the short term, anyway. Edwards undoubtedly will find a home. The question is: Where?

Will he return to Roush Fenway Racing?

Will he join Joe Gibbs Racing to drive for a new four-car operation?

Will he slide over to Team Penske in an expanded three-team setup?

Shhh. Nobody's talking.

Edwards reportedly has a stipulation in his contract that precludes him from making any announcement of a deal with a different team until September.

When asked before last week's race at Sonoma about the possibility of Edwards moving into his organization, JGR president J.D. Gibbs said, "I can't talk about that."

But let's throw out the obvious:

At 34, Edwards would be the most coveted free agent on the market should he part ways with his old team.

"I think (the media) worry about that more than we do," Edwards said after winning Sonoma. "We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win the championship. So for me it's really simple: I just have to give the best I can every week, and that's it."

Edwards is not the flashiest guy on the NASCAR circuit once you take away his signature victory backflips. But he is most certainly one of the classiest and most consistent.

He has come a very long way from the day he had an emotional meltdown in his mother's garage in Missouri in 2000. He had no ride, no money, no place to call his own.

His career path had been reduced to passing out business cards saying, "My name is Carl Edwards and I'd love to drive your race car."

"I could see the end of the road coming," Edwards said at the 2005 Busch Series banquet in Orlando. "I said, 'Man, I don't know what I'm doing.' My mom was supportive but she said, 'Hey, we've got to come up with a way. We're running out of money. We have to pay some bills.' ''

Edwards can pay a lot of bills these days. He has more than $71 million in career earnings despite a mini-swoon when he finished 15th in 2012 and 13th in 2013 in the points standings. He is definitely enjoying an uptick with two victories this season. His latest came after holding off Jeff Gordon, who closed in on Edwards' bumper but couldn't quite catch up as Edwards snagged his first-ever road course victory.

"From my perspective, what I see as a driver is just everybody working very hard, and we get the results on the days when we can," Edwards said.

Last Sunday was a good day for Carl Edwards. Expect plenty more.

Regardless of which team he is representing next season.

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