Who ranks as the biggest impact player in the 2018 NASCAR Silly Season?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Maybe, considering that his pending retirement has opened up a prime ride at Hendrick Motorsports and made major sponsor Nationwide reconsider whether to continue sponsoring a driver.
Brad Keselowski? Only if he does move to replace Earnhardt -- that changes the landscape of the sport.
But really it conceivably comes down to a driver who hasn't turned a lap in 2017.
Think about it. This whole uncertainty with Furniture Row Racing now wondering if it can field a second team, which leaves the Silly Season a jumbled mess, can be traced back to Edwards.
With Edwards, Joe Gibbs Racing had potentially six drivers who could race Cup in 2017 -- Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. Kenseth needed more sponsorship after Dollar General left after the 2016 season, and if Suarez went to Cup teaming with Arris, who was with Edwards, then Edwards -- a marketer's dream -- probably would have needed to attract more sponsorship.
So Furniture Row last August could easily agree to a one-year deal with Jones for 2017, thinking that if Jones went to JGR, it would have the inside track on Suarez/Arris or potentially another driver with sponsorship from Gibbs (or healthy support from Toyota) if Jones carried 5-Hour Energy to JGR.
Fast forward 12 months, and the road has had huge curves. Edwards left in January and JGR promoted Suarez, in part at least thanks to the sponsor affiliation, since Arris was sponsoring Edwards in Cup and Suarez in Xfinity. Six months later, JGR announced that Jones would replace Kenseth. In its announcement of hiring Jones and not renewing Kenseth, JGR cited the uncertainty at Furniture Row. But there appears to be just as much uncertainty at JGR.
Gibbs can't find significant, stable sponsorship for Kenseth, and it's just logic that it can probably sell Jones easier to a company looking for long-term partnerships.
So Jones is in, Kenseth is out and Furniture Row is left looking, with no one at JGR nor in the Toyota stable immediately able to fill the ride.
All of a sudden, the pipeline -- don't forget, Christopher Bell could have followed the Jones/Suarez path in 2019 or 2020 -- that Furniture Row thought it had 12 months ago when it agreed to expand to a two-car operation has evaporated thanks to Edwards and the moves JGR made as part of the domino effect.
Even though 5-Hour Energy's only option is to stay at Furniture Row (a restriction thanks to the Monster Energy deal NASCAR signed in December), that wasn't a full season when it was announced and a 45-year-old driver in Kenseth doesn't exactly align with its target audience.
It more than likely could fold into the Martin Truex Jr. program at Furniture Row if it wants to remain with a driver.
Team owner Barney Visser stressed last week after Truex's win that he wanted to field two cars in 2018, but that he needed to make it work financially.
While Furniture Row has Bass Pro Shops and some other sponsorship, Visser has shown he is willing to pour only so much into his organization. If he didn't care how much he spent, he would have expanded to a two-car team years ago. He waited until the time was right -- when he knew he could get Jones in the car -- and bought a team charter.
While the NASCAR landscape is always in a little bit of flux, it would not have taken all that big a leap of faith to think that JGR could have continued to funnel drivers to Furniture Row. It could have landed some additional sponsorship for Edwards -- if Arris remained aligned with Suarez -- as Edwards continued to challenge for championships.
Now, like many multicar organizations, Furniture Row needs to find a way to pay for it all.
This isn't just talk about a second team at an organization going away. It's a team that is 14th in the standings from an organization that has shown the ability to be a contender for championships.
Furniture Row isn't alone in its quandary. Certainly other organizations could downsize after 2017. Hendrick needs sponsorship for both its No. 88 and 5 cars, and they sit 21st and 22nd in the owner points. Stewart-Haas Racing still needs sponsorship for three of its four cars, but it likely would shed one car at most, and Danica Patrick's team is 30th in the owner points. If Richard Childress Racing loses Paul Menard, it could say bye-bye to the team that is 23rd in the standings.
How will it all shake out? Well, it could depend on -- guess who -- Edwards.
Edwards has always said that if he wanted to return, he'd talk to Joe Gibbs first. Well, it's obvious Gibbs doesn't have room for him. A possible interpretation of Edwards' comments about talking to Gibbs is that he still has commitments to JGR thanks to his abrupt departure. If other teams want Edwards, it's unclear what it would take to potentially buy him out of any commitments or settlements he had with JGR.
Any team would want Edwards, if he is available and sponsorship materializes -- a big "if" considering that several of the sport's stars have needed multiple sponsorships just to remain in the seat.
Edwards, when he spoke to reporters a few weeks ago at Sonoma Raceway, seemed content with his decision. He marches to a slightly different drummer than most, and while it also seemed that he would listen to offers, it's not like he's desperately trying to get back into the game.
Veterans typically cost more than young drivers, and this Silly Season appears to be shaping up to where teams might have to make economically sound choices.
But even an economically sound choice, as Furniture Row has learned, can change over 12 months. All it takes is one big name to make a decision that no one expects, and the money starts going in different directions, leaving some feeling like a potential revenue stream has run dry.
Maybe that's why they call it "Silly Season" in the first place.