Bell

2020 season preview: Leavine Family Racing

Editor’s note: Today’s Leavine Family Racing preview continues NASCAR.com’s countdown of team previews for the NASCAR Cup Series season, ranked in order of best finish in last year’s owner standings.

MORE: Changes to know for the 2020 season

LEAVINE FAMILY RACING
Manufacturer: Toyota
Engine: Toyota Racing Development, technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing
Driver: Christopher Bell
Crew chief: Jason Ratcliff

What’s new: Driver Matt DiBenedetto and crew chief Mike Wheeler are out as Christopher Bell moves up from the Xfinity Series, bringing along with him crew chief Jason Ratcliff. Wheeler will stay on as the team’s competition director, allowing what has been a successful driver-crew chief combination for the past two seasons in Xfinity (15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 starts) stay together.

Team strength: The technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing paid big dividends for the No. 95 team as it enjoyed its best season to date with DiBenedetto behind the wheel after switching to Toyota before the 2019 campaign. And now with a driver like Bell taking over who is widely considered one of the best up-and-coming talents, it’s reasonable to think the team can take the next step, which may include finally getting into Victory Lane and the NASCAR Playoffs.

The Action Network Best Bet: I truly don’t know what to expect from Christopher Bell heading into the season. He’s an uber-talented driver and should be getting plenty of assistance from Joe Gibbs Racing as well, but my fear is that the betting market will overvalue him early in the season. If this is the case, I’ll look to fade him in head-to-head matchups if the No. 95 underperforms oddsmaker expectations over the first few races. – PJ Walsh

CHRISTOPHER BELL: No. 95 Toyota
2019 Stats: Eight wins, 20 top fives, 21 top 10s, 9.1 average finish and 2,005 laps led in the Xfinity Series (finished third overall in final standings).
2020 Championship Odds: 80-1
Racing Insights Number to Know:
 DiBenedetto had more top fives (three) and laps led (152) in 36 races in the No. 95 in 2019 than the team had in its previous 184 starts combined; his seven top-10 finishes matched the team’s previous total. Bell becomes the fourth different full-time driver in the No. 95 in four straight seasons by joining the team in 2020. – Racing Insights
Fantasy Live Five:
New Hampshire, Richmond, Kentucky, Dover, Las Vegas — RJ Kraft

Outlook: Bell did everything but win the championship during his two full-time seasons in Xfinity and he did win the title in 2017 in his second full-time season in the NASCAR Gander & RV Outdoors Truck Series. Bell has built a reputation as a winner and a fast learner, but now he makes what many consider the toughest of leaps to the NASCAR Cup Series. At the very least, expect Bell to contend for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, but more could be achieved, including a chance to sneak into the playoffs either by points or via LFR’s first premier series win.

NASCAR.com 2020 team previews schedule 

Jan. 20: Teams outside the top 30
Jan. 21: Go Fas Racing
Jan. 22: Front Row Motorsports
Jan. 23: Richard Petty Motorsports
Jan. 24: Germain Racing
Jan. 27: Leavine Family Racing
Jan. 28: Richard Childress Racing
Jan. 29: JTG Daugherty Racing
Jan. 30: Wood Brothers Racing
Jan. 31: Roush Fenway Racing
Feb. 3: Hendrick Motorsports
Feb. 4: Chip Ganassi Racing
Feb. 5: Team Penske
Feb. 6: Stewart-Haas Racing
Feb. 7: Joe Gibbs Racing