The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will be filled with changes for Leavine Family Racing — with a new driver on board, new manufacturer and a new technical alliance.
Matt DiBenedetto will join the team with a two-year contract to drive the No. 95 car, the team announced Wednesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. LFR will also enter into a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and move to Toyota.
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DiBenedetto comes to LFR after four seasons in the Monster Energy Series driving for BK Racing and Go Fas Racing. The 27-year-old California native announced in September he was going in a “different direction” and leaving Go Fas to “take a leap of faith” and bet on himself. That leap of faith also involved making frequent calls to his connections in the NASCAR industry, including the LFR organization.
“I’ve been lucky to develop quite a great relationship with Bob Leavine and the folks at LFR over the past couple years, just strictly through being persistent and bugging them,” DiBenedetto said. “Bob is a very straightforward guy, and so I knew when he said that, I knew it was real, that I had an opportunity to get in the door there and be a part of the team. To say I was persistent is an understatement, and I exhausted all resources.”
DiBenedetto’s social media engagement with fans and fellow drivers has helped him gain support off the track. On the track, DiBenedetto has four top-10 finishes in 134 starts in the sport’s top series as he enters this weekend’s race at Talladega.
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The move to a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing brings LFR into the Toyota stable just as Furniture Row Racing is departing at year’s end. Furniture Row had been with Toyota since the 2016 season.
Leavine said that his agreement with DiBenedetto was a two-year deal, and that the TRD/JGR partnership was also for two years with an option for a third. A crew chief and other team personnel will be named later, he said.
“I really like his desire, determination,” Leavine said. “Good kid. … We think the world of him and his ability.”
The involvement with JGR will also serve as a reunion of sorts for DiBenedetto, who was at one time a development driver for the organization. He made seven Xfinity Series starts for JGR in 2009-2010. He also won two races in the K&N Pro Series East driving a car owned by Joe Gibbs son’, J.D. Gibbs.
LFR was a Ford organization from its inception in 2011 until the end of the 2015 season. The company then shifted to Chevrolet with a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing for the past three seasons.
In eight seasons, the Bob Leavine-owned organization has fielded cars for David Starr, Scott Speed, Blake Koch, Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon, Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith. McDowell’s and Kahne’s fourth-place finishes in the July Daytona races of 2017 and 2018, respectively, stand as the company’s best race results to date.
Kahne was the primary driver for the 2018 season before he sought treatment for heat exhaustion after the Darlington race, and Smith has filled in since then. In August, Kahne announced he was stepping away from full-time NASCAR racing, which opened up the No. 95 seat for the upcoming season.
LFR also announced on Wednesday that Smith would fill the seat for the rest of the season.