From their first steps as a part-time team in 2011 to finishing in the top-25 in points and three top-fives in 2019, Leavine Family Racing (LFR) is looking to capitalize in 2020 as the young team continues their partnership with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and brings in an Xfinity Series great to the stable.
In 2019, the No. 95 car led nearly a fourth of the Great American Race and produced an eighth-place finish during the July Coke Zero Sugar 400. And though it was rained out, Leavine states that Procore Toyota was one of the better cars left.
“I wanted to finish the race; I was not satisfied with an eighth-place finish,” says team owner Bob Leavine.
Looking to unload a strong car in Daytona for rookie Christopher Bell, who comes from Joe Gibbs Racing’s (JGR) Xfinity Series, Leavine calls the 25-year-old focused and very intense with a sense of urgency.
“He’s adapted at every level he’s come up through. Sure, there will be adjustments,” said Leavine. “He drives his heart out. From my standpoint, what more can I ask for?”
LFR announced in September 2019 that the Oklahoma-native prodigy would be behind the wheel of the No. 95 Toyota Camry in 2020. Bell, a 2017 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series champion, has 16 career wins in the Xfinity Series with seven Truck Series wins. Bell moves with experienced crew chief Jason Ratcliff atop the pit box. Ratcliff has a combined total of eight years working on Sunday with multiple drivers including Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano.
Upon in-house conversation regarding maintaining continuity with Bell, Leavine says, it was decided to move Mike Wheeler as crew chief to the position of competition director, allowing Ratcliff to step up to the Cup Series once more with Bell.
“There’s always a comfort level when a driver is able to maintain his crew chief; it’s just familiarity,” Leavine said. “It’s difficult switching to somebody you don’t know. Wheels is a great engineer and we wanted to have additional engineering support, so we talked to Jason about it, how he felt about it. Wheels and Jason did a lot of visiting and in fact, the TRD people thought “man if you can pull that off, that’s kind of a dream team.’”
While starting with LFR during the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series will be a first for Bell, the season will mark LFR’s second season with TRD, who provides enginers and technology, data and technical assistance to the team.
“We were just one of a dozen or 15 cars when we were with Ford and with Chevrolet, and we saw absolutely no growth there because the big Chevy teams and the big Ford teams get all the support and then it’s a trickle-down effect to those teams that are in alliances,” Leavine added, calling their TRD support a relationship.
In a 2019 NASCAR press release when Bell’s upcoming tenure with LFR was announced, TRD president David Wilson made his support for both Bell and LFR clean.
“TRD and Toyota have worked with Bell since his early dirt track career and we’ve been proud to see him work his way to NASCAR’s highest level,” Wilson stated. “Christopher is a special talent and we’re happy to have him winning races and championships in a Toyota. We look forward to seeing his continued growth and success at LFR in 2020. We’re also pleased with how the relationship between JGR and LFR has progressed during their first season working together. We’re confident this enhanced alliance for 2020 will continue to make them a threat for race wins week in and week out.”
2020 marks LFR’s fifth full-time season and hopes to secure their first win with Bell after coming close following a second-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2019 with Matt DiBenedetto. Bell will make his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series with the orange and black Procore colors during the 62nd running of the Daytona 500. Tune in to FOX at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 16, to catch the action.