Leavine Family Racing is not only getting a new driver in Christopher Bell next season, but an upgrade in support.
Included in Tuesday’s announcement of Bell taking over the No. 95 Toyota for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season was the phrase “enhanced technical alliance.” In joining forces with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development this year, LFR switched to running Toyotas and receiving as much support from both parties as they could afford. Earlier this summer, the team began to run older Gibbs cars.
But for next year, TRD president David Wilson clarified the enhancement means the alliance will be “akin to what we had between TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing a couple years ago. Certainly not going to get into detail of it, but enhanced hardware, enhanced communication, sharing of information, the tools that TRD provide will be further enhanced, time available on our sim, and again, everything that TRD brings to the table is going to be the same as what it has been with Joe Gibbs Racing.”
Some viewed Furniture Row as a quasi-fifth Gibbs car when it was able to receive the same support from 2016-‘18. Martin Truex Jr. became a consistent contender and won the ’17 series title.
Not only will Bell graduate into the Cup Series, crew chief Jason Ratcliff will move with him. Ratcliff has experience as a premier series leader, having won 15 races in 217 starts; his last being in 2017 with Matt Kenseth. Ratcliff and Bell have worked together for two years in the Xfinity Series. When Ratcliff takes over the role, Mike Wheeler will move into that of competitor director of LFR.
“It’s a huge priority for us to make sure Christopher has what he needs to succeed, to be confident, and this is a complete package,” said Wilson. “It is not being done piecemeal and you can tell that by the names – having Jason follow Christopher over, etc. – all of those things are designed to give him the best opportunity to succeed and continue to meet and exceed our expectations.”
Asked what was learned from the relationship between Gibbs and Furniture Row to apply going forward, Wilson admitted it was a challenging alliance. This time around, they are being more intentional about things.
“The conversations that we’ve had between ourselves, Bob (Leavine), Joe (Gibbs), in understanding exactly what it is that we are going to be doing, what it is that we’re going to be sharing, again those conversations are a lot more specific and intentional such that we don’t have any misunderstandings as we go down this path,” he said.
“By its very nature, it’s somewhat counter-intuitive because of just the competitiveness of this sport [and] it only success as a three-legged stool with Toyota/TRD, Leavine Family Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing participating collectively.”
All of this continues to be the steps forward Leavine has hoped to take with his organization.
“With the talent, character, and experience that Christopher has and has gotten as he moved up through a very solid foundation with the people surrounding him, with Jason coming over, Wheels still being here and our total people on the car will be the same, which was really built on this year,” said Leavine.
“Then, enhance with JGR… [it] is all going to come together very well. It’s our next step that we’ve been working on for about five years, so really pleased that Christopher is a part of it. Obviously, Toyota being a part of it is huge, TRD and JGR being a part of it, it’s a great family, and we all elevate together.”