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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Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.