Leavine Family Racing signs Matt DiBenedetto, joins Toyota for 2019

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leavine Family Racing announced that it will field Toyotas and has hired Matt DiBenedetto for next season.

DiBenedetto will not join the team early. Car owner Bob Leavine said that Regan Smith will finish the season in the No. 95.

“There is no rush to get him in there,” Leavine said of DiBenedetto, noting his confidence in the driver and also allowing DiBenedetto finish the season with Go Fas Racing.

Levine said the team signed DiBendetto to a 2-year deal. Levine said the team’s deal with Toyota is “the same with JGR …  two years with a third-year option. Hopefully, a long time but that is what it is on paper.”

Leavine said the crew chief, engineer and car chief positions have yet to be determined.

As part of the partnership, Joe Gibbs Racing will be aligned with Leavine Family Racing. JGR will provide cars to the team. As part of its current deal with Furniture Row Racing, JGR provides the chassis but Furniture Row Racing hangs its own bodies. JGR also will provide the pit crew for Leavine Family Racing, same as Joe Gibbs Racing has done for Furniture Row Racing. Toyota Racing Development will provide engines and technology to the team.

“Our vision is to get better from where they are today,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.

Car owner Bob Leavine and Matt DiBenedetto at the announcement that Leavine Family Racing will drive for the team in 2019. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Leavine Family Racing debuted in 2011, running four races with David Starr. The team never ran more than about half a season until 2016 when it switched from Ford to Chevrolet and ran a full season with Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon splitting duties.

The move to Toyota means the organization will have been with all three Cup manufacturers within a decade.

Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing in the Toyota camp beginning next season. Furniture Row Racing will cease operations after this season.

Furniture Row Racing had won two races before joining Toyota and being aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016. The organization has since won 16 races (15.7 percent of all the races run in that time) and a championship with Martin Truex Jr. He is among the 12 drivers racing for a championship this season.

Leavine Family Racing has never won a Cup race. The team has had Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith driver for it this season and is 25th in the owner standings.

DiBenedetto moves to the best ride he’s had in Cup. The 27-year-old is in his fourth season in Cup. He is 30th in the points, which would be his best career finish.

He drove for BK Racing in 2015-16 before moving to Go Fas Racing in 2017. He announced in September that he would not return to Go Fas Racing after this season.

DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut in 2009 at age 17 at Memphis for Joe Gibbs Racing. DiBenedetto drove six Xfinity races for the team in 2010. He ran in the K&N East Pro Series in 2011 before returning to Xfinity in 2012 to start and park seven races. He made six Xfinity starts in 2013 and never finished any of those races. In 2014, he ran 29 Xfinity races, starting and parking in more than a third of those starts.

Long: Kasey Kahne’s exit robs NASCAR fans of one last cheer for their driver

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The end was coming. Kasey Kahne foretold that when he said in August this would be his last full-time season in NASCAR.

But Tuesday’s announcement that Kahne has not been medically cleared to run the rest of the Cup season ends a career that began with such allure and promise that some of his memorabilia had to be flown in from overseas to satisfy demand.

A career that should be celebrated ends muted and abbreviated. His time in NASCAR will be recalled as not working out the way it was supposed to — from the courtroom drama over where he would race in Cup as a rookie to near-misses on the track, changing rides, being lent to a team and his departure from the series.

It has been quite a journey.

Even before he competed in his first Cup race, two manufacturers signed him. A federal court settled the matter.  He could drive for Ray Evernham’s Dodge team

When Kahne finished second in two of his first three Cup races in 2004 (he lost at Rockingham to Matt Kenseth by one-hundredth of a second), his popularity soared. Crowds left little in his souvenir hauler. One company flew his die-cast cars from China — instead of shipping them by boat.

With penetrating blue eyes, he became one of NASCAR’s heartthrobs. Kahne was selected to People magazine’s “America’s Top 50 Bachelors” at the height of NASCAR’s popularity in the mid-2000s and had women fawn over him in those Allstate commercials.

His support grew as he came close to winning but didn’t his rookie season. Newer fans might call that a Kyle Larson-type season, noting how close Larson came to winning as a rookie without doing so.

Kahne scored his first Cup win in May 2005 at Richmond. He held off Tony Stewart in the closing laps, a point Stewart noted when he congratulated Kahne.

“I just told Kasey that down the road when they talk about his first win that I got the honor of being the guy they mentioned that he had to race for the win,” Stewart said that night.

The victories came more often. Kahne won a season-high six races in 2006, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first of three times.

He was so popular that he replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Budweiser’s driver after Earnhardt moved from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. While Kahne did not have the party reputation Earnhardt had, Kahne’s youth and good looks matched the image Budweiser sought to promote.

Kahne’s win at Sonoma in 2009 for Richard Petty Motorsports marked Petty’s first time in Victory Lane as an owner in a decade.

Kahne had so much promise that car owner Rick Hendrick signed him in 2010 even though Hendrick did not have a ride available until the 2012 season. Kahne spent that in-between year with Red Bull Racing and won a race.

In his first season at Hendrick, Kahne finished a career-high fourth in the standings. It would be the high point of his six years there. Kahne won six races for the organization, including last year’s Brickyard 400 that ended a 102-race winless streak.

“I’m going to treasure this forever,’’ Kahne told NBC Sports after the win.

But that race foreshadowed the problems that plagued Kahne this season. Kahne battled severe cramping and went to the infield care center for IV fluids before he completed his duties as winner that day.

Those issues worsened this year. Darlington proved almost too much. Kahne said “it was really hard to keep my eyes open and see” during the last 100 laps of the Southern 500 as he battled extreme dehydration. 

“I was trying to control my heart rate because it was so high,” he said. “I basically just kind of laid in the car and drove around the corners. At that point all I’m doing is focusing on my body and my health, not on what I should be actually focusing on, and that’s racing.”

He tested last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in less than two hours of track time could not ease doctor concerns he’d be well enough to run any Cup race this year.

So, any farewell fans wished to have these final weeks of the season will have to take place on social media or a dirt track where Kahne will race his sprint car.

That might be the best place to appreciate Kahne — back in the type of racing that led him to NASCAR, his car sliding through the corners with a rooster tail of dirt trailing.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Aric Almirola interview, Penske success at Dega

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NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN. Host Krista Voda is joined by analysts Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.

On today’s show:

  • On Sunday at Dover, Stewart-Haas Racing was on the verge of having one of its greatest days as a company – until everything went wrong in the final 80 laps. How is SHR putting Dover behind it and focusing on this weekend’s race at Talladega? Dillon Welch is at the team’s headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina to find out, and he’s got interviews with Aric Almirola and the team’s Xfinity Series playoff hopeful, Cole Custer.

 

  • Late-race restarts have not always gone well for Chase Elliott. But on Sunday, he nailed two of them late on his way to victory. We’ll break down how Elliott has progressed in the ‘restart arts,’ which could make the difference in his pursuit of the championship.

 

  • After a ho-hum day at Dover, Team Penske heads to Talladega, a track the organization has excelled at in recent years. At such a chaotic and unpredictable track, how have the Penske drivers become steady front-runners?

 

  • And it’s been a newsy Tuesday in the NASCAR world, as one veteran driver is forced to say goodbye and a rising star is getting a new crew chief. We’ll have the latest on Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez.

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.

Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR driving career is over

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Kasey Kahne announced Tuesday that he has not been medically cleared to compete the rest of the NASCAR season, effectively ending his NASCAR career.

Kahne, 38, had previously announced this would be his last full-time NASCAR season.

Kahne has missed the last five races because of dehydration issues and had hoped to be cleared after a test last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Instead, he was not.

“To say I’m disappointed after receiving the results that I was not medically cleared for the remainder of the season following a test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week is an understatement,” Kahne wrote in a tweet. “It was my hope that everything would go well and I would be able to finish out the season strong in the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”

Kahne stated in his tweet that he is “perfectly healthy” out of the race car and that doctors have not determined any underlying health problems.

“My body just can’t handle extended periods of time in the race car and we weren’t able to control the sweat ratio to keep me hydrated enough to prevent any permanent damage to my body,” Kahne wrote.

Kahne said he would return to racing sprint cars, which compete in much shorter races. He ended a note to fans by saying:

“See you all soon at the dirt tracks, and thank you for sticking with me over the years.”

Kahne ends his NASCAR career with 18 Cup wins in 529 starts. He won the Coca-Cola 600 three times (2006, ’08 and ’12) and won the 2017 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He also was the 2004 Cup rookie of the year.

Regan Smith will again drive the No. 95 car this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

How Dover handled opening day of at-track betting on NASCAR

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DOVER, Del. – Inside a nondescript white tent about 50 feet from the Miles the Monster statute, Dover International Speedway entered a new era Saturday of betting at track – a NASCAR track.

Mimicking the betting windows often seen at horse racing tracks, the austere setup in the Dover FanZone just outside the track entrance featured a folding table with several sheets of odds for the Xfinity and Cup races and an electronic station with an attendant who took fans’ cash and punched in their bets.

Dover is the first NASCAR track to offer an on-site location for betting, which encompasses all professional sports after Delaware became one of the first states to offer sports wagering after a Supreme Court ruling in May.

John Hensley, the general manager and senior director of horse racing and sports betting at Dover Downs Casino (which is adjacent to the 1-mile oval), said there was an encouraging stream of fans moving through the kiosk during a three-hour stretch after its 9 a.m. opening.

Hensley said the most action had been on Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who will start 1-2 in the race after the lineup was set by points standings because of a qualifying rainout.

Odds sheets are displayed for betting on other sports in the kiosk at Dover International Speedway. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The NASCAR betting was split about 50-50 between picking a race winner or making a proposition bet (such as whether a driver would finish in the top five or top 10, the number of the winning car, the number of drivers to finish on the lead lap, most laps led, etc.).

“We’re doing all we can to explain it, educate them about what’s available,” Hensley said. “Everyone assumes you can bet the race winner. Then they come and look at this longer list of props you have, and then they start looking at cautions.

“The over/under on the amount of cautions is 7½, and the questions we’re getting speaks to how educated the NASCAR fan is. They immediately say, ‘Does that count the stage cautions?’ Every single person, that’s their first question.”

A list of proposition bets being offered for Sunday’s race.

The over/under bet on the number of cautions does NOT include stage cautions, only for the “natural” yellows that occur during the race.

Sharp-eyed fans also might have asked why Kasey Kahne was listed at 500-1 (Kahne remains sidelined at Dover; Hensley said he was removed from the line after the opening).

Las Vegas-based William Hill is handling the NASCAR oddsmaking, and Hensley said the sports book is offering more prop bets than a typical race weekend (including when NASCAR is at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which has no betting windows).

But the volume of options isn’t expected to have a major impact on the handle. The Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal reported that $60,000 has been wagered on NASCAR since sports betting opened in the state on June 5, which accounts for only 0.2 percent of $39.77 million in sports betting.

“That’s true, and that’s typical in the Nevada environment anyway,” Hensley said. “The four major sports do the bulk of the interest. We’ve done a good percentage of that $60,000 already this week with the event being here and with a little bit of push from what it’s had.

“The jury is out on how much from a monetary standpoint, but it’s a great tool. It’s a wonderful enhancement. Every little bit helps. It’ll be interesting to see where all the major sports and NASCAR go in the future.”

Matchups offered for Sunday’s race (betting on which driver would finish higher).

Cup betting was on hold around noon Saturday – William Hill pulls down the lines during practice and qualifying, which are monitored from Vegas to adjust the odds accordingly – but several bettors in their early 20s were milling about the tent and betting on the Xfinity race and other sports.

Bradley Saucier, a 21-year-old from Maine, had put money on Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier to win in Xfinity and planned “to probably put the whole house on Kyle Larson” to win Sunday (at 13-2). The over on the number of leaders (6½) also seemed attractive.

“It’s changed the experience quite a bit,” said Saucier, who also bet college football, baseball and hockey. “It definitely makes it feel like I have part of the race. I’m more part of it when I have a horse in the race.”

His friend Joshua Merrill, who attends several races annually with Saucier, bet Elliott Sadler to win Saturday and also planned a few parlay bets for Sunday. “Sitting at the race and having money on it makes you pay more attention to what’s going on,” Merrill said.

Travis Parks laid $5 on Justin Allgaier to win at 4/1 and also was betting the winning car number Sunday (taking Nos. 00 to 21 like a roulette wheel), as well as a few parlay and prop bets on SEC football games. “I thought this would be just racing,” Parks said. “It’s like a mini-casino.”

The NASCAR rulebook doesn’t explicitly prohibit drivers or team members from betting. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said before Sunday’s race that “specific langauge” would be added to the 2019 rulebook to clarify its gambling policy.

NASCAR betting is capped at $1,000 on race winners and $500 for proposition bets, and Hensley downplayed the notion that a team member might attempt to influence a race outcome because of betting.

“With the risk manager setting limits, the risk and return of trying to fix something is so small,” Hensley said.