Going after Chase Elliott in a NASCAR Cup Series elimination race suggests that Kevin Harvick believes revenge is a dish best served cold. What happened after Harvick wrecked Elliott indicates that the racing gods believe in just deserts.
With his season on the line at the Charlotte Roval, Harvick forgot that the need to survive and advance was more pressing than acting like the north end of a southbound horse. As 11 other drivers worked toward locking down the final eight berths of the playoffs, Harvick focused on making the No. 9 Chevy pay for a past misdeed, real or imagined.
Harvick’s actions added drama to a situation that did not need it. With the standings changing on every lap of the Bank of America 400, Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, and William Byron made desperate runs to advance while Brad Keselowski bobbed above and below the cutline seemingly every time any driver pulled off a pass.
And then havoc, er Harvick, happened. He went all Days of Thunder on Elliott.
Three weeks ago at Bristol, Harvick confronted Elliott over the Hendrick Motorsport driver’s refusal to make way as the No. 4 Ford battled for the win. The Cup Series community went into a tizzy as Elliott announced his dismay with Harvick’s antics earlier in the race as well as past races. In Elliott’s mind, Harvick is a serial offender when it comes to driving into the side of cars and cutting tires.
It made for great theater as cameras caught the two jaw-boning on pit road right after the Bristol playoff race.
No one expected the dispute would end there, which is why NASCAR officials summoned both to the trailer for a chat. Nothing of note happened between the two at Las Vegas or Talladega. The headlines there were about Denny Hamlin’s continued resurgence and Bubba Wallace’s breakthrough victory.
But Harvick, who wrecked Kyle Busch last year in a pivotal moment at Martinsville, simply could not let it go. An undistinguished road-course racer, Harvick came to the Roval nine points under the cutline, and he thought he saw a two-fer early in the third stage. Finding Elliott in front of him on turn 8, Harvick throttled up and plowed Elliott into the wall, with Cole Custer becoming collateral damage.
Elliott went a lap down, putting him that much closer to elimination, but he caught a break when the heavily damaged bumper finally fell off with 23 laps to go, triggering the caution.
Elliott remained in trouble but at least had a puncher’s chance when, lo and behold, he came up behind Harvick’s Ford with 11 laps to go. Given another 30 seconds, the bet here is Elliott would have put Harvick into a wall, even if it meant having to also call it a day for himself. Conversations on the team radio right after Harvick wrecked Elliott all but confirmed it.
But Elliott never got the chance. Maybe it was dumb luck. Maybe it was a case of Harvick seeing the No. 9 Chevy in his rearview mirror or getting that update from his spotter. But Harvick locked up his front brakes and drove into the turn 1 wall without Elliott’s help.
It was nothing short of poetic justice. With Harvick out, Elliott was all but assured of advancing. He finished 12th in the race and took great satisfaction afterward.
“As far as Kevin goes, just want to wish them a merry offseason and a happy Christmas,” Elliott, the defending Cup Series champion, told NBC Sports moments after the race.
Having said that, Elliott wanted to call it a day. “You’re not getting anything else, so you might as well quit.”
Harvick was equal parts cryptic and quasi-contrite without admitting to anything.
“Sometimes real life teaches you good lessons,” he said.
The problem now is that Harvick has nothing to lose over the final month of the season while Elliott and teammate Kyle Larson continue to pursue the championship. Team owner Rick Hendrick lived through the Dale Earnhardt-Geoffrey Bodine battles at the heart of Days of Thunder, and he knows an ongoing Harvick-Elliott circus could detract from the championship chase.
He says NASCAR needs to step in.
“They’re the only ones that can really stop it,” Hendrick said. “I hope they do, because the crew chiefs and everybody can do the best they can, but it’s up to the drivers themselves. I’ve been in this situation before. NASCAR can handle it.”
They don’t need to park Harvick to solve it. Just warning him they’re ready to send him to his room without the figurative dinner and dessert should get the job done for now.