SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — NASCAR's top series shifted to the road course at Infineon Raceway this weekend, where the focus should have been on the winding track and the ringers who arrived looking for a rare victory.
Instead, side stories again dominated discussions.
Carl Edwards remained silent Friday on his free agency status, dodging and weaving every question about his contract talks. The industry is waiting to see how things shake out for the Sprint Cup Series points leader because he's considered the first domino in what could become a frenzied signing period.
There also could be two fewer seats to fill after the announcement this week that Red Bull will leave NASCAR at the end of the season, news that weighed heavily throughout the garage.
And to think, this annual trip to picturesque Sonoma is supposed to be a reprieve from the weekly NASCAR grind!
Edwards found himself in the center of the spotlight on one of his biggest weekends of the year. He was scheduled to travel back and forth from California to Wisconsin to race in Sunday's main event at Sonoma and the Nationwide Series race at Road America on Saturday. But after struggling Friday in his Cup car, the team decided he'd skip the Nationwide race and let Billy Johnson drive for him at Road America.
But Edwards was still dogged by rumors of meetings with Joe Gibbs Racing, which could be the only team shy of Red Bull with enough financing to lure Edwards from Roush Fenway Racing. But he didn't stray from his policy of keeping business dealings private.
"We are working hard on it and we do all that stuff behind closed doors," Edwards said. "I have heard rumors about all different teams for the last two years. The thing I am going to do is keep working on it and working on it privately. I think that is the best way for me."
But he's the points leader and a legitimate threat to win his first Cup title this year. Although he said he'd be content to wait until the season is over to sign a contract, that's not realistic. The constant speculation could wear on his No. 99 team, regardless of how hard crew chief Bob Osborne tries to keep the focus on the big prize.
"We have to get it done. There is that feeling of 'Hey, we would like to get this done before we get into the Chase,'" Edwards said. "I am not going to force anything or rush anything. I am going to go about it in a methodical way."
Edwards also has faith that Osborne will not allow distractions to derail the team.
"I have worked really hard in my career trying to minimize distractions," Edwards said. "That is one thing I am very fortunate that with Bob Osborne, that guy is non-emotional about racing. He just goes about his business. I think that no matter how things go or how long we delay this or how long it takes ... we will race fine as a team.
"It is a difficult thing though because there are so many personalities that have to come together to get everything to work. We have to stay focused on our goal to win the championship, no matter what."
That's the dilemma Kasey Kahne and Kenny Francis find themselves in at Red Bull.
Although Kahne already was scheduled to move to Hendrick Motorsports next season, he's been put in yet another difficult situation. This time last year, he knew he wouldn't be returning to Richard Petty Motorsports, and had to hope his team wouldn't quit on him late in the year.
Now, he and Francis are trying to hold things together this season.
"I think what happens is, even (when) there were rumblings of what ended up happening, a lot of the pit crew and guys working on the cars were like, 'Man, what am I going to do? I have family,'" Kahne said. "As soon as that gets started, it doesn't make the team any better. That's just the way it is. There's no way it can be good.
"You start thinking about your life and things, your family. That makes it difficult."
Francis has already had a difficult stretch — his mother died last week, and except for last weekend at Michigan, he's been with family in Florida and away from the race shop.
Now at the track with worried crew members, he's hoping his group doesn't need to be told how important it is to stay focused.
"It's hard because people are worried about what they are going to do next year," he said. "I feel really bad for everyone. But a lot of my guys have been with me a long time, and they've been through situations like this before and they know they've still got to do their jobs."
Francis, who is not tied to Kahne's move to Hendrick, said he "hopes to be" with Kahne at his new team next year. But he's not worried right now about his future.
"I'm going to be fine, and I'm not too worried about next year for me," Francis said. "Right now I just feel bad for all the people who are worried about next year."