Leavine Family Racing Considering Options on Expansion, Drivers

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor
JOLIET, Il. – Could Levine Family Racing expand to two teams in 2018? Yes, it’s a 50/50 chance, team owner Bob Leavine confirmed to a small group of media, on Friday, at Chicagoland Speedway. But could there also be an equation where Kasey Kahne ends up behind the wheel of the No. 95 Chevrolet at the expense of Michael McDowell?

Expansion is something the organization looked at in 2016 heading into this season but things fell apart with a couple of their sponsors and those plans were shelved. Fast-forward to the first race NASCAR’s playoffs and speculation that Kasey Kahne could join the team and you have LFR again contemplating an expansion.

“Yes, we could and we even considered it last year,” Leavine said. “We had some potential sponsorship that didn’t come about because we were thinking about running the 95 and the 59. We even looked at the areas and how and where, so it is logistics we have already looked at.

“Yes, we could run it but two about maxes out our shop. We’re about 25,000 square feet and that will run two snug (Monster Energy Series) Cup cars. It’s really about sponsorship.”

However, despite looking at the possibility of running a second car, it isn’t something Leavine said was a sure thing. He wasn’t ruling it out but he also wasn’t ready to say it was a reality. His comments made it appear that a second team was the better option of two scenarios – the other being McDowell’s departure from the seat, not because of performance but from a business standpoint. Per Kahne’s contract, he is still employed by Hendrick Motorsports for 2018 and it was confirmed by Rick Hendrick that he is still on the hook for the salary. Asked if having Kahne would be a good financial decision, Leavine said McDowell had done nothing that would deserve his being taken out of the car.

“He probably told you we talked,” Leavine said, of his conversation with Kahne. “We talked to a lot of them, along with Michael. Michael has done absolutely nothing that would remove himself out of the car. He is close, personal friend and he’s done a phenomenal job for us this year but things potentially could happen and change, so all of those options are still on the table. Michael knows about it. So, no decision will be made. Yes, Kasey and I have talked, like I talked to other drivers and talked to Kurt (Busch). We have to look at what is best for our program, figure out who fits, what fits, if we’ve got sponsorships for it and then go from there. Michael has done, he has far exceeded my expectations coming in, so there is nothing that he has done that would say, ‘yeah, we want Michael out of our cars.’ That is not the case. We love Michael and we love what he is doing. So, as of right now, we are still investigating, exploring all of our possibilities.

“It Kasey was a consideration, I think what may help our small team more would be the sponsor side and selling a playoff driver. And again, that is no knock against Michael and he knows that but reality is reality. He is a playoff driver and we look at that more than any other factor. We really do.”

Leavine said he has numerous meetings scheduled to discuss his team’s future and which direction he wants to go. One of those directions would involve a possible change in team alliances. Currently, LFR has a partnership with Richard Childress Racing but bringing Kahne aboard could make it more beneficial for a move to Hendrick Motorsports.

With regards to Leavine’s conversation with Kurt Busch, the LFR organization may not be the best fit because Leavine admitted it is probably not at the level Busch would need to have to be happy. The team isn’t capable of winning consistently, he said candidly.

“He and I had a phone conversation and obviously, he wants to go win races next year and I was blatantly honest, I don’t think we could do that next year. I really don’t. Yeah, we may could sneak up on it, you know, obviously, at a plate race,” Leavine said. “I respect him for that. He is a great driver but it has got to be a fit for the goals and aspirations and I don’t want a frustrated driver, who says we’re not getting stuff we need. Well, we’re getting what we’ve got.”

For Leavine, a lot of the questions still needing answers could be resolved over the coming week. He said he has meetings planned with various entities which will help him decide the direction he wants to go but what he needs most is sponsorship dollars. Since coming into NASCAR in 2011, LFR has fielded cars for seven different drivers but McDowell has been their mainstay. His performance has steadily improved and LFR achieved its first-ever Top 5 finish when McDowell crossed the stripe in fourth at Daytona International Speedway in July.

“We are looking at all options even now with one car,” he said. “Right now, I just don’t want to stretch us. We are doing pretty decently for our one car and I am proud of our effort and what everyone is doing. I think having that alliance is a must; however, we have worked all this year and our biggest focus has been on our fab department. We have worked more, or as much on that, as any single part of our program.

“I think who we wound up with, RCR’s quality, you know they are in a little downturn and I think we helped them get out of it and a little small team can do that every once in a while,” Leavine said. “And obviously Mr. Hendrick, they are who they are because of who they are. So, either one of those would be great and we love Chevrolet and we are going to be Chevrolet. So, the options are still there and there is just a lot of things to sort through in this portion of the silly season.

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