Christopher Bell officially has a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride beginning in 2020.
Months of speculation about the future of the 24-year-old was put to rest Tuesday with the formal announcement that Bell will take over the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota (pictured above in its “Toyota IMSA GTO” throwback colors at Darlington). He replaces Matt DiBenedetto, who has run one season with the organization.
Bell’s rookie Cup Series campaign will be overseen by crew chief Jason Ratcliff. A crew chief in NASCAR’s top series for six seasons, Ratcliff’s last year in Cup was 2017 with Matt Kenseth. Mike Wheeler will move into the role of competitor director at LFR.
Leavine Family Racing will continue its alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, which will be “enhanced” in 2020, according to the manufacturer. Toyota Racing Development will continue to build LFR’s engine and provide technology, data, and technical assistance. Rheem and Procore will be the team’s sponsors.
“I’ve said from the start, I want this team to be competitive,” said team owner Bob Leavine. “Christopher is one of the most talented drivers we’ve seen come up through NASCAR’s ranks and together, with JGR and Toyota’s support, I’m confident our team will continue to grow, just as it has this past year. We’re certainly happy to continue to progress our relationship with both JGR and TRD as the technical partnership takes the next step forward.”
The Cup Series is the next step and challenge for Bell, who has been one of the most successful Toyota Racing drivers. Bell won seven races in 54 starts in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, including five the season he won the championship (2017).
In 68 starts in the Xfinity Series, where Bell has been competing full-time for Joe Gibbs the last two years, he has 15 wins. Bell is once again championship eligible after finishing fourth in points last season. Friday night, Bell won for a series-leading seventh time in Richmond to advance into the Round of 8.
“Since I was young, I wanted to make a career out of racing,” said Bell. “To take this next step and race in the NASCAR Cup Series with the support of LFR, JGR and Toyota is just a dream come true. It also means a lot to me to have Rheem make the move to Cup racing with me. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without their support and I’m also excited to have the opportunity to represent Procore now.
“Having been under the JGR banner these past seasons in the Xfinity Series and with TRD for as long as I can remember, having their continued support as I transition to LFR is extremely comforting and will be a tremendous benefit to me. I can’t wait to close out this season in the Xfinity Series with a strong run, and I’m looking forward to the challenge that awaits in 2020.”
TRD president David Wilson added: “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. 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 Leavine Family Racing 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.”