A widely anticipated move talked about for months in the NASCAR garage became official Tuesday as Leavine Family Racing announced that Christopher Bell will join the organization for the 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season as the driver of the No. 95 Toyota Camry.
The team also said that in addition to Bell in the driver’s seat, the technical alliance between LFR, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development) will also be enhanced for the 2020 season. TRD will continue to build the team’s engines and provide technology, data and technical assistance.
The No. 95 team unexpectedly released driver Matt DiBenedetto let go from the team in August as rumors circulated that he was being released to make room for Bell.
Bell’s NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, will join him at LFR and the Cup Series. Ratcliff spent six full seasons in NASCAR’s premier series serving as a Cup crew chief at JGR with drivers Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth.
Mike Wheeler will remain with LFR and transition to the role of Competition Director, working alongside Ratcliff.
Wheeler was crew chief of the No. 95 as the organization ran Toyota Camrys for their first year in an alliance with the manufacturer and JGR. With Wheeler’s promotion to Competition Director, Michael Leavine who is LFR’s current Competition Director will now become the Vice President of Racing Operations for the organization. Leavine will play an active role in guiding LFR through the upcoming competition changes within NASCAR.
“I’ve said from the start, I want this team to be competitive,” said Bob Leavine, LFR team founding owner. “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.”
Bell is currently competing in his second full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) season for JGR, where he’s amassed 15 career-series victories and in 2018, set the record for most wins (seven) by a rookie in the series. With seven wins in his Toyota Supra already in 2019, Bell is set for another championship run as he currently ranks first in the driver point standings.
“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.”
A native of Norman, Oklahoma, Bell began his career racing on local dirt tracks around the Midwest. He then moved on to compete in USAC Racing’s National Midget Series where he joined TRD’s driver development program and won the 2013 title.
Bell’s NASCAR career started in 2015 racing a Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Just two years later, he won the 2017 Truck Series championship, and that same year he captured the first of three-consecutive Chili Bowl titles (2017, 2018, 2019) driving a TRD-powered Midget for Keith Kunz Motorsports.
DiBenedetto was recently signed to replace Paul Menard in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford after Menard announced his retirement.
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