The conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will see the end of Leavine Family Racing. On Tuesday, team owner Bob Leavine announced he has sold LFR’s assets and charter after a decade of competition. The team, which fields the #95 Toyota Camry for Christopher Bell, will finish the season.
“It’s with great sadness today that I announce the sale of the Leavine Family Racing team, assets and charter,” read a statement from Leavine. “Since 2011, Sharon and our entire family have enjoyed being a part of the NASCAR community with Matt DiLiberto joining the family as a co-owner in 2016. We will say goodbye at the conclusion of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.
“This decision has not been made lightly. 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.”
The Texas-based team began racing part-time in 2011 with fellow Texan David Starr behind the wheel. LFR went through a gaggle of drivers in its first three years with the likes of Scott Speed, Blake Koch, Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson before Michael McDowell‘s arrival in 2014 provided the #95 Ford with stability. An alliance in 2016 with Circle Sport and Richard Childress Racing switched the LFR’s car of choice to Chevrolet and brought Ty Dillon on board as the team ran the full Cup schedule for the first time. 2016 was also the first and only year that the team fielded a second car, with McDowell running the #59 in the season opener and finale.
From 2017 to 2019, LFR shuffled between three different full-time drivers in McDowell, Kasey Kahne (before health issues forced him out of the car and Regan Smith to finish the 2018 season), and Matt DiBenedetto. 2019 saw the team move to Toyota in a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing after Furniture Row Racing‘s demise; 2020 is JGR rising star Bell’s rookie season.
Despite the team’s growth into a solid, midpack organisation, the effects of COVID-19 have proven harmful to its financial health. In a press conference later in the day, Leavine added his construction company is the team’s main sponsor, though it and other funding opportunities were impacted by the pandemic.
“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 continued in the statement.
“Leavine Family Racing will continue to compete through the end of 2020, and we want to leave on a positive note – contending for top-finishes with Christopher Bell, Toyota, TRD, and all of our partners. Thank you to everyone for your support through this journey. Thank you to our partners and fans and most of all, thank you to everyone who has been part of the Leavine Family Racing family over the last decade.”
Although the charter and other inventory were sold off, LFR’s cars will return to JGR. Leavine explained he could no longer afford to maintain the partnership with the Toyota powerhouse in addition to preparing for the Next Gen car, the début of which was pushed to 2022 by the pandemic.
Many have noted the similarities in Leavine and Furniture Row’s sales: both teams were Chevrolet powered before joining forces with JGR, but folded for financial reasons as costs of their alliances proved to be too high. Assuming whoever bought LFR does not continue to work with JGR, Gaunt Brothers Racing will presumably be next in line for that slot. The team runs the #96 Camry for former JGR driver Daniel Suárez but is still in its youth, with 2020 being its first full-time campaign.
“Man JGR alliances don’t seem to end that well,” former FRR and JGR crew chief Cole Pearn remarked in a later-deleted tweet.
A specific buyer has not been revealed, though rumours point toward Spire Motorsports. Incidentally, Spire had purchased FRR’s charter in 2019 to field the #77.
Bell’s plans for 2021 are unknown as JGR’s four seats are already filled. However, there is speculation about him replacing Erik Jones in the #20.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to compete in the Cup series for LFR, and I’m focused on finishing the year strong and going after not only my first win, but the teams as well,” he tweeted. Bell is currently twenty-third in points with five top-ten finishes.
In the wake of the news, fan and some industry criticism was directed at NASCAR’s charter system. The charters, which were introduced in 2016, guarantees spots in races for 36 cars that attempt to run every event. Chartered teams also receive a larger and fixed fraction of the prize money. In comparison, non-chartered (Open) teams have to fight among each other for the final four starting positions.
Such a system was intended to reward longtime team owners, while those without charters were left to either buy one at a possibly hefty sum. LFR, which began racing full-time in 2016, had to purchase a charter the following year from Tommy Baldwin Racing.
“Their values are dipping as there’s less and less owners willing to out up that money,” tweeted MBM Motorsports‘ Sebastian LaForge. “The charter system only really benefits those who run cheaply enough to still make money off of it.
“I reiterate: the charter system has done more harm than actual good. How many decent mid level teams have died now? The mid level teams die, and all there is left to pick up the pieces are the backmarkers, growing by the year.”
In 240 total Cup races, LFR has nineteen top tens and a best run of second at the 2019 Bristol Motor Speedway night race with DiBenedetto.