Leavine Family Racing will strengthen its alliance with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series powerhouse for 2020 and part of that deal will put NASCAR Xfinity Series championship competitor Christopher Bell in LFR’s #95 Toyota in the Cup Series next season.
Bell already was speculated to be the driver for Leavine next season when LFR announced the release of Matt DiBenedetto at the end of the season. Bell’s move to Cup and LFR was made official with an announcement from LFR on Tuesday. DiBenedetto already has announced he’ll replace the retiring Paul Menard behind the wheel of the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford next year.
Bell has 15-career Xfinity Series wins, including a series-leading seven this year as driver of the #20 JGR Toyota. He is in his second full-time season of Xfinity Series competition after a partial series schedule in 2017. He has been with JGR throughout his Xfinity Series career after a stint in the NASCAR Gander Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports, owned by JGR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch. Bell won the Truck Series title in 2017.
âItâs the pinnacle of motorsports in the United States of America,â Bell said. “If you talk to anybody, any kid, their dream, if they dream of racing, is to run in the Cup Series in NASCAR. Itâs a dream come true for me. I say itâs a dream come true for me, but whenever I was a kid in Oklahoma and I started dirt track racing, I didnât see how it was possible to get there, just because I was a dirt-track driver, and thatâs all I knew. I honestly didnât think it was possible to get to the Cup Series, and now,Â here I am today, and itâs just, itâs pretty surreal.â
Bell’s Xfinity Series sponsor Rheem and crew chief Jason Ratcliff will be making the move to LFR with him. Ratcliff previously was a race-winning Cup Series crew chief with JGR. He’ll replace Mike Wheeler, another former Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief.
âIâm really, really excited about making the next step here at LFR, and Iâm hoping that we can get it kicked off on the right foot,â Bell said. “I think having Jason along beside me is going to be a huge; itâs going to be a really big advantage having Jason with me. Heâs a great crew chief. Heâs got a lot of experience with veteran drivers, and we got to start our communication process in the Xfinity Series together, so thereâs nobody else Iâd rather go with than him.â
Also, according to LFR owner Bob Leavine, the enhancement of his team’s alliance with JGR will be more along the lines of the alliance the now-defunct Furntiture Row Racing had with JGR. FRR’s #78 team won the 2017 Cup Series championship with Martin Truex Jr. as driver. Furniture Row Racing shut down at the end of the 2018 season, and Truex moved to Joe Gibbs Racing ahead of the 2019 season.