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

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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 Racer.com 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.”

Glow in the dark: Cup cars get new look for All-Star Race

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Wednesday’s NASCAR All-Star Race will be a little brighter than expected.

NASCAR announced Thursday that the exhibition night race at Bristol Motor Speedway will see certain competitors racing with underglow lights on their cars.

Cars that have automatically qualified for the event will have the lights.

Drivers who have already clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

The light placement was first seen on Chip Ganassi Racing cars at Champion’s Week 2019 in Nashville during a burnout competition.

The best looking NASCAR burnout you'll ever see.

This might be the best looking NASCAR burnout you’ll ever see. 💨Monster Energy | Kurt Busch

Posted by Chip Ganassi Racing on Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The lights are the latest change NASCAR has made for the event, which will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time.

The race will feature the introduction of the choose rule. The rule designates a spot on the track where a driver must select if they wish to restart on the inside lane or outside lane.

Cars will also have special paint schemes that shift the numbers on the side of the cars over for sponsor placement.

Here is what upcoming NASCAR Cup races fans can attend

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Wednesday saw NASCAR announce the remaining regular season schedule for all three national series, including six Cup Series races.

In total, 10 Cup points races and the All-Star Race remain in the regular season, beginning with Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not all tracks are allowing fans to attend.

Here are the fan policies for the remainder of the Cup Series regular season.

Kentucky Speedway (Sunday)

Fans will not be allowed to attend.

 

All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (July 15)

Up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend the race.

 

Texas Motor Speedway (July 19)

Fans making up to 50% of the track’s capacity will be allowed to attend.

 

Kansas Speedway (July 23)

Fans will not be able to attend.

 

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Aug. 2)

Roughly 19,000 fans will be able to attend.

 

Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 8-9)

Fans will not be able to attend.

 

Daytona International Speedway (Aug. 16 and Aug. 29)

“We’re working towards having fans and hopefully we’ll have some news on when we’re going to go on sale in the next couple of days,” said track president Chip Wile Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

 

Dover International Speedway (Aug. 22 – 23)

Speedway officials remain in consultation with local, state and federal health officials, as well as Delaware Gov. John Carney, on whether fans will be allowed in the stands with appropriate social distancing for the August events.

Weekend schedule for Kentucky Speedway

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NASCAR heads to the Bluegrass State this week for four days of racing at Kentucky Speedway.

All three national series will be in action, plus the ARCA Menards Series, for five races. The Xfinity Series will hold two races for its second doubleheader of the season.

According to wunderground.com, the forecast for the start of each race is:

Thursday Xfinity race: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees and a 20% chance of rain.

Friday Xfinity race: Scattered thunderstorms, 80 degrees and 37% chance of rain.

Saturday Truck Series race: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees and 0% chance of rain.

Sunday Cup race: Scattered thunderstorms, 84 degrees, 40% chance of rain.

Here is the full weekend schedule for Kentucky Speedway.

(All times are Eastern)

Wednesday, July 8

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Driver motorhome parking (screening in progress)

Thursday, July 9

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening in progress)

1 – 10:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

6 – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

7:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

8 p.m. – Xfinity race No. 1; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Friday, July 10

10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

Noon – ARCA driver/crew chief/spotter meeting (electronic communication)

12:30 p.m. – ARCA rookie meeting (teleconference)

1 p.m. – ARCA crew chief meeting (teleconference)

4 – 5 p.m. – ARCA haulers enter (screening in progress)

5 – 5:30 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (teleconference)

5:30 p.m. – Trucks driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

6 – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

7:50 – Xfinity drivers report to cars

8 p.m. – Xfinity race No. 2; 200 laps/300 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, July 11

7 a.m. – 2 p.m. – ARCA garage access (screening in progress)

8 – 10 a.m. – Truck series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Truck garage access (screening in progress)

Noon – 1 p.m. – ARCA practice

2:20 p.m. – ARCA drivers report to cars

2:30 p.m. – ARCA race; 100 laps/150 miles (FS1)

4 – 5:30 p.m. – Trucks engine prime and final adjustments (garage area)

4:40 – 5:30 p.m. – ARCA haulers exit

5 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:50 p.m. – Truck drivers report to vehicles

6 p.m. – Truck race; 150 laps/225 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 – 8:30 p.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

8:30 p.m. – Truck haulers exit

Sunday, July 12

7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Cup garage access (screening in progress)

12:30 – 2 p.m. – Engine prime and final adjustments on pit road

2:20 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

2:30 p.m. – Quaker State 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

Thursday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky: Start time, forecast and more

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A stretch of five races in four days at Kentucky Speedway begins Thursday night with the first of two Xfinity Series races.

It will mark the second doubleheader of the year for the Xfinity Series.

Can Chase Briscoe keep up a winning pace that’s seen him win three times in the last four races (and five overall thus far in the season’s first 13 races)?

Here’s all the info you need for Thursday night’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be at 8:13 p.m by Shady Rays CEO Chris Ratterman. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:24 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments are at 6 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 8:05 p.m by Jason Romano. The national anthem will be performed at 8:06 p.m. by Matthew Grant.

DISTANCE: The race is 134 laps (201 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

INSPECTION: Ronnie Bassett Jr.‘s car failed inspection twice. He loses pit selection for Friday’s race.

TO THE REAR: Mason Massey and Bayley Currey (unapproved adjustments)

PACE LAPS: At the direction of race control, the entire field will go down pit road during a pace lap for pit road speed verification. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pull over or slow down, they will start at the rear of the field.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, a high of 86 degrees and a 24% chance of rain predicted at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe defeated Justin Haley and Noah Gragson to win on the Indianapolis road course.

LAST RACE AT KENTUCKY: Cole Custer beat Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for lineup