Leavine Family Racing: There may be no ‘I’ in team, but there’s a lot of family in it

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There’s nothing more important in this world than family. The closer you are to your family members, the better the relationships are and also the better chance for success in life.

That’s the same concept that is behind Leavine Family Racing. Not only is “Family” in the team name, it’s also the way the team goes racing, with all its employees essentially being extended family members.

And even though LFR is only a part-time team in the Sprint Cup Series, it’s looking for a better overall season for its family-team in 2015.

Admittedly, gains are small when you’re a single-car team that runs just over half the races on the Cup schedule. But gains are gains, no matter how small they are, because they hopefully can eventually lead to even bigger gains.

LFR took part in Day 3 of the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte on Wednesday and showed that gains are definitely what has gotten the team to where it is now, and where it hopes to be in the future.

Last season was the first together for LFR and driver Michael McDowell. The marriage couldn’t be more perfect, as both LFR and McDowell are not only family oriented, they’re also very religious.

While larger teams might consider the kind of year LFR had in 2014 as marginal, there were indeed gains that the team made that it hopes to build upon in 2015.

“2014 was an exciting year for us,” team owner Bob Leavine said. “We made some gains and advances. And, as always, it’s one step forward and two steps back.

“But we’re excited about what we did. We had some personal bests, Daytona, Michael had a personal-best finish of seventh, which was also our best. We also had solid finishes at Bristol, 18th, and finished up at Homestead 21st. We’re excited about that and the steps we made.

“2015, the momentum is really built off of what we didn’t get done last year. That’s motivation. The successes are okay, but if you don’t learn from what you did wrong, you’re not going to get any better. Our team is motivated by getting better, we’re obviously a small team, but a team with a lot of heart.”

Indeed, LFR is NASCAR’s little engine that could. It keeps chugging and gaining steam.

“Our goal is to qualify at every race we go to, qualify well, run strong and run in the top 25,” Leavine said. “And with our people, I think we can do that. I believe those are realistic goals for our team.”

The partnership between veteran crew chief Wally Rogers and McDowell grew strong throughout the season. While the team doesn’t have the financial resources to run the full 36-race Cup schedule, it did the best with what it could.

McDowell ran 19 races last season and still managed to finish 37th. In fact, McDowell has finished 37th for each of the last three seasons, and was 36th in 2011.

But he agrees with Leavine, that a jump up to the top-25 is definitely within his and the team’s reach. With power and chassis from Team Penske, McDowell and LFR are poised to make some noise in 2015.

“It was my first year with the team last year and we really started to build some momentum halfway through the season,” McDowell said. “By the end of the year, we were starting to figure out the cars and what I needed, just the communication it takes.

“I’m looking forward to working with Wally again. He’s assembled a great team in the offseason and we had a few changes and we really feel we’ve been fortunate to add a lot of great people to our organization.

“With our partnerships and alliances with Ford and Team Penske, we really feel we have the tools to go out there and be competitive. We’re a small team but still have great equipment and great people.”

The team got a big lift Wednesday when it was announced that Thrivent Financial will be primary sponsor for 10 races and an associated sponsor for an additional 10 races in 2015. Thrivent, which will sponsor McDowell’s No. 95 Ford in the season-opening Daytona 500, joins KLove Radio as among the team’s sponsors.

Interestingly, McDowell’s best two finishes in his eight-year Cup career have come in the last two Daytona 500s. He was ninth in 2013 and a career-best seventh in 2015.

The team is continuing to look for additional sponsors to potentially compete in more than 20 races, which would allow it the opportunity to reach its goal of finishing 2015 in the top 25 in the final standings.

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.