Jon Leonard

Silly Season sees third rookie join Cup ranks in 2019

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Front Row Motorsports’ announcement that it will expand to three cars and add Matt Tifft increases the rookie field for the 2019 Cup season.

Tifft will be in a Cup rookie class with Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric. That’s already larger than last season’s rookie class, which featured only William Byron and Bubba Wallace (Byron won rookie of the year honors).

Tifft’s signing is just one of many changes that will take place for the 2019 season.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 13: Ty Dillon said he will remain at Germain Racing for the 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 24)

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn move to Joe Gibbs Racing from the defunct Furniture Row Racing team (announcement made Nov. 7)

No. 31: Daniel Hemric replaces Ryan Newman at Richard Childress Racing for 2019. (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 36: Matt Tifft joins Front Row Motorsports in a third car for the 2019 season (announcement made Nov. 27)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

No. 47: Ryan Preece replaces AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 95: Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing for 2019. Leavine Family Racing also switches to Toyota beginning next year (announcement made Oct. 10)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: Jamie McMurray will not drive this car next season. He has yet to decide if he will drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in the 2019 Daytona 500 and then move to a management position with the team. He said Nov. 16 he had yet to decide if to do that or some other racing.

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto announced Sept. 7 that he would not return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch‘s one-year deal with Stewart-Haas Racing ended after the season. Reports have him headed to the No. 1 car in 2019. 

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

AJ Allmendinger: He told NBC Sports on Nov. 17 that he didn’t have any races for 2019 lined up at the time.

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement that he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: The 2004 Cup champion has yet to announce his 2019 plans.

Jamie McMurray: Has yet to announce what he’ll do in 2019 but it won’t be a full-time ride in the No. 1 car at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Daniel Suarez: With Martin Truex Jr. taking over the No. 19 in 2019, Suarez is looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.” Suarez is the favorite for the No. 41 ride.

CREW CHIEF CHANGES

No. 3: Danny Stockman replaces Justin Alexander as Austin Dillon‘s crew chief in 2019 (move confirmed Nov. 26)

No. 11: Mike Wheeler will not return as Denny Hamlin‘s crew chief for 2019 (announcement made Nov. 16)

No. 24: Chad Knaus replaces Darian Grubb as William Byron’s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 48: Kevin Meendering replaces Chad Knaus as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 95: Mike Wheeler joins the team and replaces Jon Leonard, who moved back to Richard Childress Racing to be an engineer on Austin Dillon’s team.

XFINITY SERIES

ANNOUNCED CHANGES FOR 2019

No. 1: Noah Gragson replaces Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports for 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 25).

No. 42: Chip Ganassi Racing signs Ross Chastain to drive the No. 42 full-time for 2019 (announcement made Nov. 9).

No. 98: Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to drive the team’s second Xfinity car and be a teammate to Cole Custer (announcement made Nov. 27).

RCR: Tyler Reddick moves from JR Motorsports to RCR for the 2019 season. Reddick’s car number, sponsor and crew chief will be announced later. (announcement made Oct. 31).

Jon Leonard returns to Richard Childress Racing as engineer

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Jon Leonard, who served as the interim crew chief for Leavine Family Racing from June 16 through the end of the season, has moved to Richard Childress Racing and will be an engineer on the No. 3 team, RCR confirmed.

Leonard changed his Twitter bio to state that he was a “#3 race engineer” and tweeted about his new job Monday:

Leonard was the lead engineer for the No. 95 car this season. He became the interim crew chief after Travis Mack was relieved of his duties in June.

Leonard broke into NASCAR with Richard Childress Racing in January 2012 in its Xfinity Series program. In 2016, he moved up to the position of second engineer for Ryan Newman‘s Cup team at RCR. Leonard joined Leavine Family Racing, which was affiliated with RCR, after the season.

 

Kasey Kahne: Crew chief change result of Travis Mack, owner not seeing ‘eye-to-eye’

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Kasey Kahne said he and former crew chief Travis Mack were “fine” but that Mack and team owner Bob Leavine “didn’t see eye-to-eye.”

Kahne made the comments Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway.”

Leavine Family Racing announced it was replacing Mack with team engineer Jon Leonard on June 16. Mack was in his first year as a crew chief after working as a car chief at Hendrick Motorsports.

Last week’s race at Sonoma was Kahne’s first with Leonard as interim crew chief of the No. 95 Chevrolet. They finished 20th.

“We got along fine, we worked really hard together,” Kahne said of Mack. “He was really open to my feedback and working with me. I was open to him and the direction he was pushing along. He was learning a lot and working hard at the same time with the team on a race weekend. I was behind Travis the entire time. He and Bob didn’t see eye-to-eye in a few areas. … I feel they got off-track with each other more than anything else. Because of that they made a change.”

On June 20, Leavine shared his side of the dismissal, saying it wasn’t an “off-the-cuff” decision and that he kept Kahne “in the loop continually.”

“When I hired him last year, it was about giving him the best car we could,” Leavine said. “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.”

In the 15 races before Mack’s departure, Kahne’s average finish was 24th. His best result was 17th three times (Texas, Talladega and Dover).

Kahne, who is 28th in points, hasn’t provided the team with an improvement from last year when Michael McDowell drove the No. 95.

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

“Overall, Bob’s looking at the big picture, looking at things he feels will help our team the rest of this season and in the future,” Kahne said. “I don’t like being part of those changes, I don’t think anyone does, but that was something they wanted to do.

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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Leavine Family Racing makes crew chief change to Kasey Kahne’s team

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Leavine Family Racing has tapped Jon Leonard to be Kasey Kahne‘s interim crew chief, replacing Travis Mack, the team announced Saturday morning.

Leonard has been the team’s lead engineer and also served as the team’s interim crew chief for the final five races of 2017.

Kahne is 28th in points in his first season with the team. His best finish this year is 17th, which he accomplished at Texas, Talladega and Dover.

Mack was in his first year as a crew chief. He had been the car chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s team last season at Hendrick Motorsports.

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