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Leavine Family Racing to close at end of 2020 season

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

By JENNA FRYER

AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Leavine Family Racing has sold its NASCAR team but will finish the season with driver Christopher Bell.

Team owner Bob Leavine made the announcement Tuesday, saying he could not risk his 41-year-old construction business by continuing to fund the team.

Leavine is the second team owner to close its doors after aligning with Joe Gibbs Racing. Furniture Row Racing won a championship with driver Martin Truex Jr. in partnership with Gibbs.

But when Gibbs raised the price and Furniture Row lost a critical sponsor, owner Barney Visser pulled the plug and closed the team. Truex moved to a Gibbs car and Leavine signed on as a Gibbs partner.

The partnership provided a landing spot for Bell, a JGR development driver who needed a promotion to the Cup Series but couldn't get into one of Gibbs' four seats. Bell, a rookie, has just one top-five finish this season and is ranked 23rd in the standings driving the No. 95 Toyota.

Leavine has not revealed who purchased the charter, which guarantees entry into the 40-car field each race.

"It's a bad taste in my mouth to be perfectly candid," Leavine said. "It's not something I'm used to of not being able to control what we do and what we spend. Right now, I'm happy for what we've done.

"Our growth in five years as a full-time team, the people we have here in our shop I would not swap for anyone, anywhere. The family owned a big percentage of the team and we just couldn't continue to commit to put money into it. I don't see a whole lot of things that I've succeeded at. Today isn't necessarily one of the happier days that I've ever had in this sport."

Leavine said 2020 has been a difficult year and "the pandemic has impacted our economy, and unfortunately that's just not something we are able to overcome in order to continue racing beyond this season."

He said the 10-week shutdown during the pandemic hurt the organization, and the model to return to racing in May is not sustainable for his one-car team.

"I had lobbied for a lot of things to change in NASCAR with a lot of owners and was very disappointed in what came out of that meeting," Leavine said. "I knew that was probably going to be the straw that broke our back. I had to start looking for how best do we protect our team? How best do we keep people employed? A lot of things went into that decision.

"I thought we could make a difference and be a good team. A responsible and respected team in NASCAR. To walk away and not have completed that, I've never had to do that before and give up on anything. But I could not let it destroy our business - a 41-year old business - in Texas during these times, so you have to protect something and that's a profitable organization and I cannot rape, pillage and plunder.

"It's like having two kids, and you have to decide which one lives, and which one doesn't. It's gut wrenching."

He said the chassis and equipment that came from its alliance with Gibbs will return to JGR at the end of the season and are not part of the sale. He sold what the team owned - the charter, race shop and inventory.

Leavine Family Racing has competed in NASCAR since 2011, making its debut with David Starr at Texas Motor Speedway. The organization didn't run a full schedule until 2016, with Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon splitting the ride.

Others who have driven for the team include Kasey Kahne, Regan Smith, Matt DiBenedetto and Bell.

Leavine Family Racing is winless in 240 Cup starts. Its best finish is second with DiBenedetto at last fall's Bristol night race.

Updated August 4, 2020

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