Larson wins at Charlotte; Harvick out of playoffs

Larson wins at Charlotte; Harvick out of playoffs

Kyle Larson won at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday and Kevin Harvick‘s championship chances ended in the outside wall of Turn 1.

Harvick crashed out of Sunday’s race on lap 97 of the 109-lap race when his brakes locked up heading into the first corner. Harvick was just ahead of Chase Elliott when he hit the wall. Harvick had intentionally crashed Elliott earlier in the race.

Harvick has been upset with Elliott ever since Elliott took away his line over the final 25 laps at Bristol in September. Elliott’s move — after he was forced to pit because of contact with Harvick that caused a flat tire — allowed Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson to pass Harvick for the win. And the 2014 champion was upset with Elliott, the 2020 champion, for what he had done.

When asked about his bump of Elliott earlier in the race, Harvick was succinct. 

The crash could have taken Elliott out of championship contention. The driver of the No. 9 suffered significant damage to the back of his car after hitting the wall. But it didn’t thanks to a little help from NASCAR officials in the tower and he was able to stay on the lead lap and advance to the third round of the playoffs. 

Elliott ended up finishing 12th and offered a brilliant deadpan quote after exiting his car.

“As far as Kevin goes, just want to wish them a merry offseason and a happy Christmas,” Elliott said after the race on NBC.

Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman and William Byron were eliminated from the playoffs in addition to Harvick.

How Harvick’s retaliation was over the line

It’s obvious why Harvick is still upset about what Elliott did to him at Bristol. Elliott’s actions helped cost Harvick his best chance at a win in 2021. After winning nine races in 2020, Harvick is winless with four races to go in 2021. 

But what Harvick’s retaliation on Sunday was far more severe than Elliott’s initial crime. Heck, what Elliott did at Bristol can even be considered good team strategy. After all, he was helping his teammate win the race. 

Elliott knew full well what he was doing at Bristol when he slithered in front of Harvick with 25 laps to go during that race. And Harvick knew it too. Elliott showed his displeasure as he got one of his laps back and Harvick knew that contact between the two drivers is what cut Elliott’s tire down. 

But all Elliott did was simply take away Harvick’s lane. Yes, he had fresher tires. But Harvick also didn’t drive aggressively on Elliott’s back bumper. After all, this happened at Bristol. When a driver is in your way at Bristol, it’s perfectly acceptable to move him out of the way.

Harvick didn’t do that. Perhaps he didn’t want a caution flag and another restart. Perhaps he didn’t think Elliott was going to hold him up enough for Larson to make the winning pass. Perhaps he thought he could pass Elliott. Who knows. 

What’s clear is that Harvick could have cost Elliott a chance at the championship with that wreck. He knows that. And that was likely a big reason for the timing of that move. When you crash out in the final race of a round, there are no more races to make up the points you’ve lost. Harvick tried to ruin a guy’s championship bid after losing out on nothing more than a race win. That’s not an eye for an eye.

Instead, the only title bid that got ruined was Harvick’s. He’s out of the playoffs before the third round for the first time ever while Elliott is moving on.

Elliott benefits from no black flag

Here’s what Harvick’s bump of Elliott looked like. You can hear Harvick on the gas in the replays as he hit Elliott’s bumper. 

Elliott’s team made multiple attempts to fix the car and had the rear bumper cover taped back onto it at one point. That tape didn’t last very long as Elliott’s bumper started flapping in the wind with just over 35 laps to go.

NASCAR typically black flags teams for damage that could potentially cause a debris caution. There have been multiple incidents of NASCAR officials black-flagging teams specifically because their cars’ bumper covers were about to fly off. 

NASCAR didn’t black flag Elliott on Sunday. And it worked out very well to his advantage. 

The bumper cover flew off Elliott’s car on lap 85. Since he was never black-flagged by NASCAR, he stayed on the lead lap. The caution then gave Elliott’s team more time to fix the damage on the car and a chance to make even more extensive repairs than it would have been able to make while forced to pit under green.

A black flag for repairs would have dropped Elliott off the lead lap and prevented a caution that bunched the field up. Had Elliott fallen off the lead lap, there’s no guarantee he could have gotten back into the top 15 to keep his hopes of a repeat title alive. 

At best, NASCAR’s unwillingness to throw a black flag as its most popular driver’s bumper cover was flapping around is the epitome of officials’ inconsistency when it comes to enforcing on-track rules. Anyone watching the race at home knew that it was only a matter of time before Elliott’s bumper came off and caused a caution. Anyone watching at home could see it. Apparently the officials in the scoring tower couldn’t. 

Larson comes back from battery issues

Larson found himself at the back of the field in the second stage of Sunday’s race because of a battery issue. That issue forced him to pit multiple times for his team to fix it and caused him to lose all of the track position he had gained.

But Larson was fast enough — and had plenty of laps — to drive through the field. He took the lead from Denny Hamlin with eight laps to go and drove away from second-place Tyler Reddick over the final laps. Chris Buescher finished third and Kyle Busch finished fourth. 

Who advanced in the playoffs?

The eight drivers still contending for the championship are Larson, Hamlin, Elliott, Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. The third round of the playoffs is at Texas, Kansas, and Martinsville before four drivers will race for the championship in a winner-take-all finale at Phoenix on Nov. 7.

Larson and Hamlin appear to be the favorites to occupy two of the four spots at Phoenix, but it’s no guarantee that one or both of them will be racing for the title. 

Race results

1. Kyle Larson

2. Tyler Reddick

3. Chris Buescher

4. Kyle Busch

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Matt DiBenedetto

7. Joey Logano

8. Christopher Bell

9. Ryan Blaney

10. Alex Bowman

11. William Byron

12. Chase Elliott

13. Daniel Suarez

14. Bubba Wallace

15. Austin Dillon

16. Michael McDowell

17. Erik Jones

18. Cole Custer

19. Ryan Preece

20. Brad Keselowski

21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

22. Chase Briscoe

23. Ross Chastain

24. Aric Almirola

25. Kurt Busch

26. Anthony Alfredo

27. Joey Hand

28. Josh Bilicki

29. Martin Truex Jr.

30. Quin Houff

31. Scott Heckert

32. Timmy Hill

33. Kevin Harvick

24. Garrett Smithley

35. Corey LaJoie

36. Cody Ware

37. Justin Haley

38. AJ Allmendinger

39. Ryan Newman