Wild night at Daytona ends in superlatives for some drivers, teams

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A night that saw half the 40-car field eliminated by crashes, presented opportunities for other drivers Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

The result was a list of superlatives for drivers and team that often aren’t in the spotlight.

The highlights for those teams and drivers:

# Kasey Kahne matched the career-best finish for Leavine Family Racing with his fourth-place performance

# Both JTG Daugherty Racing cars finished in the top five for the first time. AJ Allmendinger placed third and Chris Buescher was fifth. Allmendinger’s result was his fourth consecutive top-10 finish at Daytona, the longest active streak.

# Ty Dillon placed sixth, earning his first career top-10 finish and was the first top-10 result for Germain Racing since Casey Mears finished sixth in the 2015 Daytona 500.

# Matt DiBenedetto’s seventh-place finish was his fourth career top 10 in 122 starts.

# Jeffrey Earnhardt finished a career-best 11th.

# DJ Kennington finished a career-best 13th.

DiBenedetto’s best finish this season before Saturday was 16th. He scored the top 10 despite being collected in the 26-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 55.

“I guess that was probably one of the craziest races I’ve ever taken part in,” he said. “I’m glad we survived and we seem to always position ourselves in a spot to be up front and competing for the win at the end of these speedway races at Daytona quite often.”

Kahne was thrilled with his run. His best finish this year before Saturday’s race was 17th.

“It was a strong car, really strong car,” he said. “The guys did a great job and we were able to avoid wrecks. I knew in the second stage we had a car capable to win if things went right. We were there from that point on.”

On the final restart, Kahne didn’t have anyone pushing him but the cars in front were stalled out as they ran side by side and Kahne got a run on Martin Truex Jr.

“I got past him and he just hung on my left rear corner off of Turn 2 and side drafted me, sucked me back down half the straightaway,” Kahne said. “We had such a gap on (winner Erik Jones) that he had a huge run on us at that point. I tried to block a little but he was going where I wasn’t and got by.”

Allmendinger had to overcome challenges throughout the race.

“You know, tonight was strange,” said Allmendinger, whose best finish this season before Saturday was eighth at Martinsville. “Tried to ride at the back early on, and still got wrecked and had a lot of damage on the left rear of the race car, so my guys did a good job to fix it good enough. Heck, I probably missed another seven wrecks after that.  It was just kind of chaos out there.

“You know, it was a little bit of survival, and there at the end it was just trying to make the right moves. With that damage on the left side of the race car, it put a lot of drag in it, so I didn’t really know if we had a great shot to win it. I knew my only shot was going to be off of Turn 4 and try to make the right move. Going down into (Turn) 3, Martin was battling with Erik there and made a move and tried to push Martin and obviously get as much as I could, and we salvaged a great result out of it.”

Buescher, his teammate, also was in contention on the last restart.

“Glad we were able to push Erik out there and at least help him get his first Cup win, that’s pretty cool,” said Buescher, whose result matched his season-high of fifth in the Daytona 500. “Pretty wild race. It was a good points night for us. Pit crew did excellent. We put all the puzzle pieces together and stayed out of trouble. That was a big part of it.”

Earnhardt was excited about his night.

“Just proud of all these guys,” he said. “Nine Line Foundation, Black Rifle Coffee, Extreme Concepts – they are the reason I am here with the cause that they are trying to push and its just an honor to get to be a part of it. It’s an incredible company and they support our country, our military and all of our veterans. I am so happy I got them a good run.

“Everyone kept asking me what it means to come here with the Earnhardt name at Daytona, and it does mean a lot, don’t get me wrong. But to show support to our veterans and be a part of what the foundation is doing … that meant more to me than anything tonight.  Proud of all the guys at Premium in giving me a good car tonight and keeping the car in one piece.  It’s my best career finish in the Cup series, so hopefully this will lead to some more sponsorship and get me back out here on the track more often.”

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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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Kasey Kahne celebrating 10th anniversary of All-Star win with throwback scheme

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Leavine Family Racing announced a throwback paint scheme for Kasey Kahne on Tuesday, but you won’t have to wait until the Southern 500 to see it in action.

Kahne’s No. 95 Chevrolet will get the retro treatment this weekend in the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

The scheme celebrates the 10th anniversary of Kahne’s lone win in the exhibition race.

Kahne won the 2008 edition of the event when he drove the No. 9 Dodge owned by Ray Evernham.

Kahne won the event only after he was voted in by fans following the Open. He remains the only driver to win the race after being the winner of the fan vote.

“It was so awesome that the fans voted us into the All-Star race back in 2008,” said Kahne in a press release. “It really was special to get voted into the race, and then to have a great car to be able to drive our way to the front in order to make strategy calls that put us in position to win.  Our paint scheme for this weekend looks so similar to that scheme we ran in 2008’s event, that it’s been cool to see it in the shop as the guys have been getting ready for this weekend.  I’m looking forward to racing it this weekend, and hopefully the paint scheme can bring us the same result we had ten years ago.”

Kahne’s participation is the race this year is Leavine Family Racing’s first time in the main event.

Dumont JETS will sponsor Kahne. It is the first time the company will be a primary sponsor in the Cup Series. It will also be a primary sponsor for the playoff race at Dover International Speedway.