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Leavine Family Racing owner: ‘We just had to make a change’ at crew chief

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When addressing the crew chief change last week on Kasey Kahne‘s No. 95 Chevrolet, Leavine Family Racing owner Bob Leavine invoked a popular saying used to define insanity.

“You just can’t keep doing the same thing if you expect a different result,” he said.

LFR announced last week Travis Mack had been relieved of his duties as crew chief on the No. 95 after just 15 races.

Lead engineer Jon Leonard was named interim crew chief.

Leavine made his comments Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift.”

“It wasn’t just off-the-cuff, it was well thought out,” Leavine said. “Kasey, I kept him in the loop continually because it was about, when I hired him last year, it was about giving him the best car we could. I just didn’t feel to a point we were doing that. And you just can’t keep doing the same thing if you expect a different result.

“As you well know when you sign up for these jobs what’s expected. You don’t get any participation trophies. Results rule. It’s long hours and a lot of time away from home and those type of things. So we just had to make a change. Obviously it wasn’t changing the driver. Our driver’s been doing a great job.”

The change came with Kahne sitting at 28th in the points ahead of this weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway and the team not showing any improvement at this point compared to last season with Michael McDowell, who was 27th in points.

Through 15 races, Kahne’s average finish is 24th. His best result is 17th three times (Texas, Talladega and Dover).

Last year, McDowell had an average finish of 23.7 entering Sonoma. McDowell had finishes of 15th (Daytona 500) and 13th (Kansas). He went on to place 14th at Sonoma and then fourth the following week at Daytona.

Leonard assumed the crew chief role after serving as interim crew chief for McDowell in the final five races of last season. In those races, McDowell’s best finish was 18th at Kansas.

“I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity,” Leonard said in a team release this week. “I’ve had a little experience at it before, so I can appreciate and understand what is expected and needed. A lot of my role will stay the same – set-up preparation, history analysis, and practice decisions from an engineering standpoint.”

Leonard said the biggest change in process for him will be in pre- and post-race for car/spec changes and decisions and part/component selection.

“At the end of the day, all the decisions are going to be connected to my name,” Leonard said. “It’s not always going to be easy, and I’m sure it won’t always be right, but being able to own your mistakes, and grow from them is what is important. Being able to be a leader and bring this group together (including Kasey) will bring us success. I’m also lucky to have a great second engineer who I trust and can step into a lot of my former engineering role to help with some of my responsibilities both at the shop and at the track.

“Ben (Lynch) and I work well together and have a very similar background. I’m really looking forward to what this No. 95 team can achieve for the rest of the season. We have a good bunch of guys who want to compete with the big boys – and that’s what we’re here to do starting this weekend.”

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NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson passes away

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David Pearson, described by Richard Petty as the “greatest race car driver that I raced against,” died Monday. He was 83.

The Wood Brothers confirmed Pearson’s death, tweeting: “Unbelievably sad day today after hearing of the passing of (one of) THE ABSOLUTE GREATEST #nascar drivers. We wouldn’t be here today without him and we’re thinking of the entire David Pearson family tonight.”

The news led to numerous tributes from those in the industry, including current drivers.

Pearson, who drove for the Wood Brothers from 1972-79, was a three-time Cup champion who won 105 Cup races, which was second only to Petty’s 200. Pearson, who won 18.29 percent of his races, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.

Pearson, known as the Silver Fox, won 27 races and had 30-runner-up finishes in the 1968-69 seasons.

“I grew up with Bobby and Donnie (Allison) and all those guys but when it came to Steve McQueen cool that was Pearson, he was the coolest of them,” NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty said of Pearson. “The way he walked, the way he carried himself. Forget what he did on the race track, he was just cool. That’s the word beside him in the dictionary.”

NASCAR America: Is this the best Championship 4 ever?

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In the fifth year of the current format, the question being asked on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America is whether this is the greatest assembly of Championship 4 drivers of all times.

The answer is undeniably yes, according to the Dale Jarrett. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano constitute the best Championship 4 thus far.

“We could sit here and talk about how strong they are,” Dale Jarrett said. “We’ve talked about the Big 3 all year and who was going to be that fourth. Joey Logano showed strength as they got into the playoffs. But you don’t have to believe all that we are telling you. Just look at the numbers.”

It is a phrase repeated all too often, but in 2018 the numbers really do speak for themselves.

With his win last week at Phoenix, Busch tied Harvick with eight wins apiece, Truex earned four wins and Joey Logano scored two. With one race remaining, that totals 22 victories. The most previous to this season came last year when Truex, Busch, Harvick and Brad Keselowski combined for 18 wins including Truex’s Miami win.

The Championship 4 combined for 74 top fives. Last year, they had 62 top fives through the season finale in Miami.

“When we talk about the numbers, it is impressive,” Steve Letarte said. “Joey Logano has had a great year, but it has been dominated by three names. I would expect the race (at Miami) to be no different.”

“I think going into Miami, the big deal is they have all been there before,” Burton said. “Having been there; done that matters. The pressure of being in that situation? They’ve all experienced it.”

This will be the fourth appearance among the Championship 4 for Harvick (previously appeared in 2014, 2015 and 2017) and Busch (2015, 2016 and 2017). Truex (2015 and 2017) and Logano (2014 and 2016) have two appearances each.

The Big 3 have been together twice before (2017 and 2015).

2017: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski (combined for 18 wins, 62 top fives)

2016: Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards (15 wins, 53 top fives)

2015: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. (10 wins, 48 top fives)

2014: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano (11 wins, 42 top fives)

For more, watch the videos above.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Phoenix recap, Rodney Childers interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and reviews all the action from over the weekend at ISM Raceway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Dale Jarrett from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte join them from the Charlotte Studio.

On today’s show:

  • We’ll recap Sunday’s elimination race at Phoenix that set the Championship 4 in the Cup Series. We’ll hear from those drivers, including Phoenix winner Kyle Busch, who locked themselves into this weekend’s race for the title. We’ll also hear from those drivers who’ll have to wait until next year.
  • Kevin Harvick drove his way into the Championship 4 with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix. He did so without the services of crew chief Rodney Childers, who is serving a two-race suspension for last week’s violation at Texas. Marty Snider goes 1-on-1 with Childers to get his take on Harvick’s performance as well as the team’s preparations for Miami.
  • We’ll also recap Saturday’s Xfinity Series elimination race at Phoenix. Facing a must-win situation, Christopher Bell scored his seventh win of the year and, more importantly, advanced to the Championship.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Sage Advice: What Tony Stewart told Kurt Busch at Phoenix

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Tony Stewart has seen the picture taken of him and Kurt Busch near the end of Sunday’s Cup race at ISM Raceway and wants to assure you it’s not what it looks like.

The picture shows the Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and Busch talking closely on the No. 41 team’s pit wall shortly after Busch wrecked in the final playoff elimination race.

“It looks like he’s sobbing on my shoulder and I’m consoling him and that’s not what it was,” Stewart said Monday on Kevin Harvick‘s “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It was a boss and his driver, and more so two friends, that are having a conversation saying, ‘Don’t let that one mistake and that one crash overshadow what you did today as a race car driver and what you’ve done all year,” Stewart said.

Busch, the 2004 champion, entered the elimination race three points behind Harvick for the final transfer spot to the Championship 4.

Busch led 52 laps before he was held a lap by NASCAR for passing the pace car as he entered the pits on Lap 136.

After he returned to the lead lap, Busch stayed out of the pits during a late caution.

When the race restarted with 44 laps to go, Busch was racing Denny Hamlin for the lead in Turn 2 when Hamlin got loose and pinned him against the wall, which caused a chain reaction that involved Chase Elliott. Busch finished 32nd.

“Those restarts were insane yesterday,” Stewart said. “Kurt couldn’t do anything about that. It was more just having the conversation with Kurt, ‘Don’t beat yourself up, don’t go to the media and blast NASCAR because you did make a mistake, it was your fault, not NASCAR’s fault.’

“‘You did everything you could do’ … he absolutely drove his ass off. Ran a great race, battled adversity after his mistake coming on pit road. Absolutely did everything perfect from that moment on. That’s what I wanted him to understand.”

Busch, who enters the season finale at Miami without having announced where he’ll race in 2019, praised Stewart, who he has competed for since 2014.

“He was just helping me out as a driver, owner,” Busch said. “That’s what Tony Stewart does. He’s a good individual that knows how to pat somebody on the back and create clarity from the outside on what went on because I only see what happens from the inside of the car.”