The inevitable is now official. Christopher Bell has been announced as the driver of Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car in 2020.
The team finally made it official that Bell was joining next season on Tuesday. He’s long been expected to be the team’s driver in 2020 and it was made even more expected when the No. 95 team and Matt DiBenedetto parted ways in recent weeks.
Bell, 24, is in his third season with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series. He has a series-leading seven wins in 2019 and has won 15 of his 68 career Xfinity Series starts.
His Xfinity crew chief Jason Ratcliff will move up to the Cup Series with him. Ratcliff has previously served as the crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Cup Series car with Matt Kenseth. Current No. 95 crew chief Mike Wheeler will become LFR’s competition director.
Bell is widely considered one of the young up-and-coming talents in NASCAR and a relationship between him and the No. 95 car always seemed like a possibility once LFR switched to Toyota for the 2019 season.
It became more inevitable when news broke that Erik Jones had re-signed as the driver of the No. 20 in 2020. Jones has been in that seat since Kenseth left the team at the end of the 2017 season and the other three drivers at JGR — Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. — are entrenched as three of the best in the Cup Series.
With no room at the JGR inn, LFR was always the landing spot for Bell, who doesn’t need a fourth full-time season in the Xfinity Series. That meant DiBenedetto was the odd man out, though he found a ride at Wood Brothers Racing for the 2020 season after the abrupt retirement of Paul Menard after the 2019 season.
LFR has improved in recent weeks with DiBenedetto. The team struggled early in the season but DiBenedetto’s six top-10 finishes have all come in the past 13 races.
With Bell behind the wheel in 2020 — and the assumption that Toyota will up its support for the team— LFR could very well be a fringe playoff contender.
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
More from Yahoo Sports: