Opinion: Edwards and Kenseth New Rivals?

Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards

Edwards: "The fact that we have Ricky Stenhouse there really makes it a pretty lateral move for us right now.” (Photo: Getty Images)

Nobody was happier to see 2012 go into the rear view mirror than Carl Edwards.

After losing the previous year’s Sprint Cup Series title by a whisker to Tony Stewart, Edwards was poised to make a serious run for last season’s championship.

We all know how that turned out and not only did Edwards see his winless drought extend to another full season, he wasn’t even able to make the Chase.

Fast forward to the unofficial start of 2013 last weekend at Daytona Preseason Thunder testing and Edwards made no bones about his desire to make last year’s disappointment ancient history.

“I would like to put last year out of my memory and not think about it too much,” said Edwards.

Fair enough.

Helping Edwards’ cause for a fresh start are some significant changes at Roush Fenway Racing. Veteran Jimmy Fennig has been installed as the crew chief for the No. 99 team, hoping to bring back the magic Edwards and former chief Bob Osborne shared.

But an even bigger adjustment for Edwards and the team will be the addition of new teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who steps into the ride vacated by Matt Kenseth.

Early in the process, Edwards is ecstatic about the switch.

“Matt leaving is obviously a huge loss for Roush Fenway Racing,” said Edwards. “He is a great teammate and a huge asset to any team. I think he will help the Gibbs organization a lot but the fact that we have Ricky Stenhouse there really makes it a pretty lateral move for us right now.”

While I understand the desire of Edwards to maintain a positive vibe heading into the new season, the swapping of Stenhouse for Kenseth is simply not anywhere near being a lateral move. Not right now anyway.

Make no mistake Stenhouse is a talent. He comes to the Sprint Cup Series after back-to-back Nationwide championships and is more than ready to take the next step up the NASCAR ladder.

But there is no way the young driver stacks up to Kenseth, who at last count had 24 Sprint Cup Series victories as well as a series championship.

Could it be in addition to trying to pump up his new young teammate with optimism, Edwards was at the same time taking a jab at Kenseth?

It’s no secret the association between Edwards and Kenseth over the years has included some bizarre twists. Who can forget the fake punch Edwards threw at Kenseth at Martinsville a couple seasons ago after an on track altercation?

"I've got a problem with Carl, and I'm glad people finally got to see that side of him in the video,” Kenseth said at the time. “Until he proves he's changed with his actions, I don't want to deal with him."

The duo appeared to put those differences aside in fairly quick order. But the relationship may have been strained prior to the Martinsville incident during Edwards’ contract negotiations to remain in the Roush camp.

Roush and Ford threw together a package of enormous proportions to keep Edwards in its stable. All that attention, which included a concerted effort to direct sponsorship to Edwards and the 99 team, may have eventually led to Kenseth evacuating the dance floor.

We may never know what went on behind closed doors and whether putting most, if not all its eggs in the Edwards basket prompted Kenseth to feel slighted and change teams for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.

But what we do know is Edwards has a new teammate in Stenhouse and Kenseth will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.

In a sport that is in desperate need of a rivalry or two, perhaps the ingredients are now in place for a new one to begin.

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