Editor’s note: NASCAR.com continues its countdown of team previews for the Monster Energy Series season, ranked in order of best finish in last year’s owners standings. Today’s feature: Leavine Family Racing and driver Matt DiBenedetto.
LEAVINE FAMILY RACING
Engine: Toyota Racing Development
Driver: Matt DiBenedetto
Crew chiefs: Mike Wheeler
2018 standings: LFR netted just one top-five finish and dipped one spot to 27th in the team owner standings. A medical condition knocked Kasey Kahne out of the No. 95 car after 25 races, and super-sub Regan Smith drove the remaining 11.
What’s new: A manufacturer shift to Toyota, a new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, plus transitions for a new driver (DiBenedetto) and crew chief (Wheeler) mark all the major boxes in the overhaul checklist. The organization threw in a typeface change for their car number last month for good measure.
Outlook: Team owner Bob Leavine made a major investment in linking his organization with powerhouse associates in JGR and Toyota, aiming for a seismic upswing in performance. The new-found alliance has been likened to the former partnership that transformed Furniture Row Racing into a championship contender, but Leavine insists his goals for 2019 are more modest for now.
Matt DiBenedetto, No. 95 Toyota: DiBenedetto leaves Go Fas Racing after two seasons with Archie St. Hilaire’s No. 32 group, a tenure that netted three top-10 results and finishes of 32nd (2017) and 29th (2018) in the Monster Energy Series standings. That stint, plus his two seasons at the former BK Racing team, were marked by difficulties but also underdog stories, none better than his spirited drive to sixth place at Bristol in 2016.
If the increase in manufacturer support provides the performance bump for Leavine Family Racing that’s anticipated, DiBenedetto stands to take a similarly upward path. Having Mike Wheeler, a reassuring figure atop the pit box for Denny Hamlin the last three seasons, as his new crew chief provides more optimism for the No. 95 driver’s fortunes.
“I don’t like to try to put numbers on these things,” DiBenedetto said of the expectations. “I just know that in general, with the switch to Toyota and being part of the TRD group, being with Leavine Family Racing, which is a team that I have seen that they’ve done nothing but dump their heart and soul into, and they want to be better. You can tell these guys want to perform at the highest level, so to answer your question, I just think we’re going to be able to go out there and really shock some people next year, show everybody what we’re made of, and I’m lucky to be a part of a growing team.”
• Jan. 22: Assorted teams
• Jan. 23: Richard Petty Motorsports
• Jan. 24: Germain Racing
• Jan. 25: Leavine Family Racing
• Jan 28: Front Row Motorsports
• Jan. 29: JTG Daugherty Racing
• Jan. 30: Wood Brothers Racing
• Jan. 31: Roush Fenway Racing
• Feb. 1: Richard Childress Racing
• Feb. 4: Chip Ganasssi Racing
• Feb. 5: Hendrick Motorsports
• Feb. 6: Joe Gibbs Racing
• Feb. 7: Stewart-Haas Racing
• Feb. 8: Team Penske