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Bob Leavine reflects on his team’s rise from start-and-park car to Kasey Kahne’s new home


CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — A week ago, Bob Leavine got on the phone with Andy Petree, the new vice president of competition at Richard Childress Racing.

The owner of Leavine Family Racing and its No. 95 Chevrolet told Petree his main goal for the 2018 Cup season, his team’s third as a full-time operation.

“To be the best RCR car in the alliance,” Leavine told NBC Sports and Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “Beat all theirs. The 3 and the 31, that’s my first goal. To be the best RCR car in the alliance. If we do that, it’s like the process, the results will come. If we’re that car, we can do that, all other (goals) will come. You can read into that whatever.”

Why does Leavine have the confidence that his car could potentially up-show RCR’s flagship cars and even the No. 43 of Darrell Wallace Jr. at Richard Petty Motorsports, which is also now part of the RCR alliance?

Leavine Family Racing is coming off a 2017 season where the No. 95 Chevrolet, driven by Michael McDowell, finished 26th in the standings. He claimed one top five and top 10, in the July race at Daytona. It was a career-best result for McDowell and the team.

But McDowell no longer calls Leavine Family Racing home after four years with the team.

Not far from where Leavine answered questions was his new driver.

Kasey Kahne stood next to his No. 95. Procore Chevrolet, taking pictures with the car he’ll drive in February’s Daytona 500.

A 14-year Cup veteran and a 18-time winner, Kahne was announced as LFR’s new driver in September. Kahne comes to the team after a disappointing six-year stint with Hendrick Motorsports.

During that same six years, LFR slowly built itself up from a team that only made four races in 2011.

In 2018, Leavine says coyly, “There may be victory hats in our hauler.”

David Starr (left) and Bob Leavine (center) in 2011, the first year of Leavine Family Racing. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for TMS).

Bob Leavine had a five-year plan.

The owner of a construction company in Tyler, Texas, Leavine had originally started Leavine Family Racing in 2011 as a way to help veteran David Starr get more starts in the Cup Series.

The No. 95 was entered into eight races, but Starr only qualified for four.

That was enough for Leavine.

“That got my competitive juices going,” says Leavine, who got his start in NASCAR as a sponsor in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

After Starr came Scott Speed, who made 15 of the 16 races LFR entered in 2012. Their best finish was 17th at Watkins Glen International.

However, the No. 95 only finished three of those 15 races.

“You couldn’t test back then,” Leavine says. “So we would use some races where you didn’t go start-and-park. You went to work on your car. Work on (getting) your guys more experience. So we were building experience by going and doing that. We’d love to be able to run the whole race, but we didn’t have enough money. We were still running out of our own pocket. So we had to pick the races we (ran) full-time. The ones with the better purse, then we’d add to it and we can run.”

It was during this time Leavine began planning out his five-year-plan to to run full-time in Cup.

In 2013, LFR made 20 races with four drivers, again finishing just three races.

The next year, Leavine hired veteran McDowell to take over the 95, which he qualified for 19 of 22 races it was entered into. This time, McDowell finished all but five races.

During all of this, Leavine saw himself as a “roadblock” to his team’s success, especially when it came to marketing and promoting the team.

“For two to three years, I didn’t worry about it,” Leavine says. “I wasn’t from marketing. I didn’t (use it) in our company in Texas, we got business by our reputation. Well, it doesn’t work that way in NASCAR. It’s sponsors and selling those things and I had no background (in it).

” … I was probably the biggest roadblock. It was me learning, figuring out what I needed to do. I could see how to put the operations side together because that’s where I came from. But the marketing and the whole strategy, none of that.”

To help in that effort, Levine brought on Jeremy Lange, who worked with Best Buy and GMR Marketing before joining the team. Lange is now the vice president and general manger of the team after having served as vice president of operations.

The team also faced the hurdle of a fire that devastated its 20,000-foot shop in May 2015, destroying four of the 12 cars they had.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Then Leavine’s five-year plan ended a year early in 2016 when NASCAR introduced the charter system, which guarantees 36 starting spots in a 40-car field.

“We were forced into (it) because there’s a big difference between a charter purse and an open purse, it really is,” Leavine says. “Then we had to get a partner and lease a charter (from Circle Sport Racing) to make that happen and we had to switch manufacturers (from Ford to Chevrolet). So we had three things going on in ’16.”

Leavine also entered a technical alliance with RCR after previously working with Team Penske. As part of that deal, Ty Dillon drove the 95 in seven races while McDowell took the rest.

“It was still a little disconnected,” Leavine says. “Ty did a great job, but that was the deal we made with RC, getting him rides.

“(In) ’17 it was us. Just us. Set up all the cars. Did it all ourselves, internally. Becoming more independent and self-sufficient. That gave us more confidence and we got better cars and faster cars. It just snowballed.”

The snowball ended – or reached its peak – with Kahne being announced as McDowell’s replacement on Sept. 19. On Tuesday, LFR announced Procore as the team’s first major sponsor with Kahne on the team. It will sponsor the team in six races each in 2018 and 2019, including the Daytona 500.

The 37-year-old driver will be the first for LFR who has a Cup win on his record.

Leavine has also been adding new team members who have seen LFR’s growth over the last few years.

The team added a new shop foreman from Richard Petty Motorsports and a front-end mechanic and a body man, both coming off championship seasons with Furniture Row Racing.

Leading the team – made up of roughly 30 employees – will be rookie crew chief Travis Mack, who comes to LFR after 14 years with Hendrick Motorsports, most recently as the car chief on the No. 88 car of now-retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Leavine feels in the last three years, after splitting his time between the team and his company in Texas, that Leavine Family Racing has finally begun to bear his “fingerprints.”

“I never really had my fingerprints on it for our culture like we had on our organization out in Texas,” Leavine says. “The majority of our people have been with us for 15, 20 years. So it’s building that culture of people, surrounding yourself and letting them do their job. That’s what we’ve done little by little in the last two-and-a-half, three years. Finding those people, doing well. Michael McDowell did a great job for us moving up through there, getting our car to run. Lot of credit to him.”

Hiring Kahne, along with the improved fortunes of the team, has grown the talent pool Leavine has to choose from.

“Having Kasey helps broaden the market we can go for,” Leavine says. “Because he’s had Farmers (Insurance) and some of those people like that. That’s important for Jeremy (Lange) in selling and marketing people. But acquiring people in the shop, (they) know ‘I’m going to work on Kasey’s car.’ So yes, it helped.”

What’s the biggest door that’s opened for the team in the two months since signing Kahne?

“It’s difficult to say,” Leavine answers. “A door or an attitude? An attitude can be a door. I think our optimism about what our future is, because you’ve got to have that person in order to carry you.”

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

BK Racing court filing reveals expenses, revenue for each race

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Court documents filed Thursday show that BK Racing made a net income of $359,619 through the Phoenix Cup race.

The documents are part of BK Racing’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The team filed Chapter bankruptcy Feb. 15.

COURT DOCUMENTS: Click here to view the BK Racing filing

MORE: Peek into race purses under charter system

A hearing is scheduled this afternoon in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of North Carolina, on a motion by Union Bank & Trust. The bank claims it is owned more than $8 million in loan payments and seeks to have a trustee oversee BK Racing’s finances “to an end to the Debtor’s years of mismanagement,’’ according to court documents from the bank.

In its motion to appoint a trustee, Union Bank filed documents stating that the team lost nearly $30 million from 2014-16.

The updated budget filed Thursday on behalf of BK Racing breaks down income and expense for each of the first four points races and anticipated income and expenses the rest of the season.

The document shows that BK Racing had $50,000 sponsorship for the Daytona 500, $10,000 sponsorship each for the Atlanta and Las Vegas races and $30,000 sponsorship for the Phoenix race.

BK Racing listed prize money as:

$29,946 for its qualifying race at Daytona

$428,794 for finishing 20th in the Daytona 500

$91,528 for finishing 36th at Atlanta

$98,754 for finishing 33rd at Las Vegas

$82,000 for finishing 34th at Phoenix

The high payout for the Daytona 500 has given BK Racing more than $350,000 in net income. For other races, though, the team’s net income has been small.

At Phoenix, the team listed a net income of $790.

The team had $120,250 in revenue for the Phoenix weekend. It was broken down this way:

$82,000 in prize money

$30,000 in sponsorship

$8,250 in other revenue

The team listed $119,460 in expenses that weekend. Among the team’s expenses for Phoenix:

$35,000 for its engine lease

$21,000 for salary and wages

$10,525 for airfare for team personnel

$9,000 for tires

$9,000 for contract payroll

Those expenses alone totaled $84,525, exceeding what the team made in prize money and showing how important sponsorship is in the sport.

BK Racing provided a budget for the remaining races. The team’s budgeted expense was more than $103,000 for every race. That included everything from engine lease and tire bills to hotels, meals, salary and wages, entry fees, insurance, payroll taxes and more.

The most expensive race is the Daytona 500 at $135,502, which included an engine lease of $50,000. Next listed was Auto Club Speedway at $125,606, which included $9,500 in airfare and $10,000 in tires.

BK Racing’s prize money estimates on remaining races is based on a 30th-place finish in each event.

BK Racing lists its sponsorship budget for future races as $50,000 per race, progressing to $100,000 and to $150,000 for the final 13 races. That would give the team a sponsorship budget of $3.505 million.

Court documents filed by Union Bank & Trust show that BK Racing collected $1.5 million in sponsorship in 2016 and $1.05 million in sponsorship in 2015.

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A rare peek into race purses, payouts under the charter system

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A new filing before a Thursday bankruptcy court hearing for BK Racing provided a window into the payouts of NASCAR’s charter structure.

The system, which went into effect two years ago, guaranteed revenues and race attendance for 36 cars. Funding was based on four categories: entering a race, historical performance over the past three seasons, the traditional points fund (with extra cash) and race results. It was partly intended to help teams by providing more predictable revenue guarantees for budget projections.

MORE: Court filing reveals expenses, revenue for each race

Prior to the 2016 season, each race had a purse that paid out for finishing position and contingency awards (which rewarded the most competitive teams). Under the new system, money paid for results was based solely on finishing position, and NASCAR abolished publishing purse totals and race winnings in box scores.

The BK Racing document, which was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of North Carolina, sheds some light on those now shielded numbers. It lists the total purse for every race during the 2018 season and also lists BK Racing’s prize money for each of the first four races in the No. 23 Toyota with driver Gray Gaulding.

–Daytona 500 (total purse $15.466 million): The team earned $428,794 for finishing 20th.

–Atlanta Motor Speedway (total purse $2.477 million): The team earned $91,528 for 36th.

–Las Vegas Motor Speedway (total purse $2.647 million): The team earned $98,754 for 33rd.

–ISM Raceway near Phoenix (total purse: $1.459 million): The team earned $82,000 for 34th.

Though the formula was different for structuring the purse and race payouts, here were the total purses and payouts for those positions in 2015, the last year that earnings were publicly made available.

–Daytona 500: Total purse $19.8 million; $348,803 for 20th

–Atlanta: Total purse $6.3 million; $101,370 for 36th

–Las Vegas: Total purse $6.5 million; $118,724 for 33rd

–Phoenix: Total purse $5.1 million; $74,805 for 34th

A hearing on the BK Racing bankruptcy case will be held in Charlotte at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Click here to view the BK Racing filing.

Carl Edwards says he’s ‘enjoying life’ on the farm

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Former driver Carl Edwards says he’s “having fun, enjoying life” and doesn’t have plans to return to racing.

Edwards talked with host Claire B. Lang on “Dialed In” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday night.

Edwards shocked the sport when he announced in January 2017 that he was leaving. He returned to his home in Columbia, Missouri.

“I’m basically just doing what I told everybody I was doing, spent a lot of time with friends and family and traveling a lot, farming a lot and really enjoying it,’’ Edwards told Lang.

Asked about any return to racing, Edwards said: “I don’t have any plans to come back. I do miss a lot of people.’’

Asked about any potential political ambitions, Edwards said: “You never know. I think like probably almost every person listening to this channel right now, I really believe in, I believe in America, I believe the Constitution is the set of rules that let us have all this success and freedom. I care about that being there for generations to come. If sometime in the future there is a chance for me to help that cause, try to lend some assistance to not letting us get off track, then heck yeah, I would consider, but, no, there is not some campaign started. I’m not going to be doing anything anytime soon.’’

Edwards made his Cup debut in August 2004 at Michigan International Speedway, finishing 10th in a race won by Greg Biffle.

Edwards won 28 Cup races in 445 starts. Every retired driver who has at least as many wins and is eligible for the Hall of Fame has been inducted. Jeff Gordon is eligible for the first time this year. Edwards and Tony Stewart will be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year.

Edwards’ 28 wins includes the 2015 Coca-Cola 600 and 2015 Southern 500. He won four Cup races at Bristol and Texas, his highest victory total at any track. Edwards also won 38 Xfinity races in 245 starts.

At the end of the interview Wednesday, Edwards was asked if he had any final words for fans.

“I think I would just say thank you to everybody,’’ he said. “Thank you to the fans, the competitors and everyone, the tracks and NASCAR. That part of my life was just spectacular. I wouldn’t trade one second of it for anything. And then I would say, I just hope everybody out there is enjoying what they’re doing and you’re getting the most out of every day and really having fun.’’

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