Leavine Family Racing sells No. 95 car citing financial impact from coronavirus pandemic

·4 min read
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - JULY 23: Christopher Bell, driver of the #95 Rheem Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Super Start Batteries 400 Presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts at Kansas Speedway on July 23, 2020 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Where will Christopher Bell be in 2021 now that Leavine Family Racing is being sold? (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Leavine Family Racing (LFR) won’t exist after the 2020 season.

The team announced Tuesday that it had sold its assets to an unnamed buyer. Per the Sports Business Journal, that buyer is likely to be Spire Motorsports, which currently operates the uncompetitive No. 77 car.

“This decision has not been made lightly,” team owner Bob Leavine said. “Family has always been a part of the team’s name and this is how we view every member of our race team — as our family. There is no good time to make this announcement, but doing it earlier allows our people to explore employment opportunities for next season to provide for their families. There will be opportunities with the new owners which was important to our decision.”

“This year has been challenging for not only our race team, but our industry, our country and the entire world. The pandemic has impacted our economy and unfortunately that’s just not something we are able to overcome in order to continue racing beyond this season.”

Leavine said in a news conference that his construction company was his team’s main financial backer and it had suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those struggles, combined with the costs of a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, made it impossible for him to field a car in 2021.

The team has been aligned with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing since the start of the 2019 season. Matt DiBenedetto drove for the team in 2019 before Christopher Bell was elevated to the Cup Series by Toyota and took over the car.

Bell is considered one of the rising talents in the Cup Series and has a contract with the manufacturer. He’s not leaving the Cup Series anytime soon. But it’s unclear where he could drive in 2020. Joe Gibbs Racing’s four-car team is full at the moment, though Erik Jones’ contract expires at the end of the season. If the team doesn’t re-sign Jones, Bell could drive the No. 20 car in 2021.

LFR made it 10 seasons

LFR made its Cup Series debut in 2011 when David Starr drove four races for the team. It fielded a car part-time through 2015 before moving full-time in 2016 as a Chevy team aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Kasey Kahne drove for the team in 2018 after parting ways with Hendrick Motorsports, but didn’t complete the season because of health issues. The team hired DiBenedetto in 2019 and he posted an average finish of 18.3 — the best of any driver in the team’s history.

Another JGR-aligned team bites the dust

LFR is the second team aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing to shut down in the past three seasons. Furniture Row Racing ceased operations at the end of the 2018 season, citing lost sponsorship and the costs associated with being competitive in NASCAR as reasons for its departure. Martin Truex Jr. — now at Gibbs — won the 2017 Cup Series title at Furniture Row.

While LFR has never won a Cup Series race, it’s established itself as a mid-pack team over the last couple seasons. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A healthy middle class is vital to a competitive Cup Series. And the gap between the haves and have-nots only becomes wider with each fewer middle-tier team.

Spire bought FRR’s charter

Spire took advantage of Furniture Row’s shutdown and bought its charter, which is essentially a guaranteed starting spot for each race and a bigger share of NASCAR purse money.

A second charter would give it two guaranteed starting spots for cars in 2021. And hopefully Spire is a little more competitive than it has been so far. While Justin Haley did win for the team at Daytona in 2019, that win may be the flukiest in NASCAR history thanks to a well-timed lightning strike near the track.

Outside of Haley’s win, Spire has just one other top-20 finish in 55 races and has just 17 total top-30 finishes in its 56 total starts. The team is a weekly backmarker in the Cup Series and has just three lead-lap finishes.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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