The NASCAR Cup Series‘ Round of 16 came down to a tyre war of sorts as multiple playoff contenders found their hopes of advancing to the next round impacted by flat tyres in the waning laps of Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. One particular downed tyre was that of Chase Elliott after contact with Kevin Harvick. Although his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Kyle Larson went on to score his sixth win of the year, Elliott and Harvick exchanged words after the race.
Martin Truex Jr., coming off his win at Richmond, and Denny Hamlin formed a Joe Gibbs Racing front row.
Stages #1 and 2
Truex led the first five laps before Elliott took the spot and held it to the competition caution on lap 40. Larson battled with Hamlin for second behind him before Larson passed his ally on lap 84. However, Hamlin would become the leader on lap 91 and take the stage victory. Larson, Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Truex, and William Byron rounded out the top ten. All ten drivers were in the playoffs, while the six who failed to finish in that range were Aric Almirola (twelfth), Tyler Reddick (thirteenth), Alex Bowman (fourteenth), Michael McDowell (eighteenth), Kurt Busch (twenty-first), and Joey Logano (twenty-second).
Elliott suffered a speeding penalty between stages as Larson and Keselowski began Stage #2 in the lead. The former briefly led before the latter did so, though Hamlin was once again on top by lap 145. About twenty laps into the stage, Almirola’s playoff hopes took a hit when his car started to smoke, and he was eventually black-flagged. On lap 166, Ryan Newman hit the wall and caused a stack-up that collected Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Daniel Suárez, and Bubba Wallace.
The race resumed on lap 182 with Larson leading. Anthony Alfredo and B.J. McLeod produced another caution on lap 219 with a wreck that also claimed Spire Motorsports‘ Justin Haley and Corey LaJoie, resulting in a red flag that spanned nearly eight minutes. Alfredo eventually retired from the race due to crash damage, which locked Elliott into the Round of 12.
Larson remained on top to the finish. Playoff drivers followed with Hamlin, Keselowski, Byron, Elliott, Harvick, Blaney, Bell, Reddick, and Kyle Busch in tow; Blaney, Logano, and Harvick clinched Round of 12 spots.
Harvick took the lead before Stage #3, but it was short-lived as Blaney passed him five laps into the segment. Blaney enjoyed over forty laps in first before Harvick retook the position. Larson regained the lead on lap 337.
Quin Houff spun on lap 364, marking one of two cautions involving him as he would eventually lose a left-rear tyre and hit the wall shortly on lap 389. Houff’s tyre failure would begin a string of tyre issues for drivers as the race crossed the 400-lap mark as Hamlin produced what would be the final caution of the night for his right-front going down.
In a battle of Hendrick team-mates, Elliott claimed the top spot from Larson on lap 413. Kyle Busch was the next tyre victim when he was forced to pit on lap 456.
After chasing down Elliott, Harvick made his pass for the lead on lap 465. However, the two made contact along the way that killed Elliott’s left-front tyre and his hopes of winning. When Elliott returned to the race, he was two laps down but found himself in a position to help team-mate Larson take the win away from Harvick.
With Elliott working as a blocker to impede Harvick’s progress, Larson took advantage to take the lead on lap 497. Harvick could not make up the lost ground as Larson drove off to his series-leading sixth win of the season and second at Bristol after an Xfinity Series victory there in 2018.
“We were able to stay close enough to Kevin,” said Larson in his post-race press conference. “Chase was obviously upset with the contact, was just making things kind of tough on him. It kept me in the game. Able to make some moves on him there late.”
While Larson celebrated his win, Harvick and Elliott continued their feud off the track. The two drove alongside each other to pit road before confronting the other on pit road, though Harvick kept his helmet on as Elliott pointing at him. Their conversation eventually extended into the garage area before being taken into the NAPA Auto Parts hauler for a private discussion.
“It’s something he does all the time. He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks,” Elliott told NBCSN. “Sometimes it does cut down your left side, other times it doesn’t. Did it to me in Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of racing me.
“Whether he did it on purpose doesn’t matter. At some point you have to draw a line. I don’t care who he is or how long he’s been doing it, I’m going to stand up for myself and my team and we’re going down the road.”
Harvick, who is no stranger to kerfuffles with other rivers throughout his career, let alone at Bristol as he once attempted to put Greg Biffle in a chokehold after an incident in a 2002 Xfinity race there, told Elliott he had pulled “a chicken-shit move.”
“We’re racing for the freaking win at Bristol, three-wide, he throws a temper tantrum. I was just trying to get the lead and race him hard. Then he pulls up in front of me and sits there till I lose the whole lead. […]
“Damn, I’m ready to rip somebody’s freaking head off.”
In spite of the clash and possible future tensions, the two, Larson, and nine other playoff drivers were able to settle down for the moment as they move on to the Round of 12. Reddick finished twelfth, Almirola eighteenth, Kurt Busch nineteenth, and McDowell twenty-fourth to be eliminated.
|1||5||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|2||8||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|3||14||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|4||7||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||500||Running|
|5||11||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|6||10||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||500||Running|
|7||1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|8||22||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|9||2||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|10||19||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|11||3||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||500||Running|
|12||13||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|13||20||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|14||17||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|15||18||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|16||28||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||500||Running|
|17||27||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|18||12||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||500||Running|
|19||15||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||500||Running|
|20||23||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||499||Running|
|21||9||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||499||Running|
|22||21||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||498||Running|
|23||25||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||498||Running|
|24||16||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||498||Running|
|25||4||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||497||Running|
|26||31||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||497||Running|
|27||35||51||J.J. Yeley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||495||Running|
|28||26||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||494||Running|
|29||6||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||493||Running|
|30||36||53||Garrett Smithley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||487||Running|
|31||33||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||482||Running|
|32||38||66||David Starr*||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||482||Running|
|33||37||15||James Davison||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||474||Running|
|34||34||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||375||Accident|
|35||30||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||313||Accident|
|36||29||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||216||Accident|
|37||32||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||215||Accident|
|38||24||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||177||DVP|
Underline – Eliminated from playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points