Orlando Sentinel

Tensions rise in Cup hunt

- By Jenna Fryer

Chase Elliott, according to Kevin Harvick, doesn’t race very smart. In fact, moving forward in NASCAR’s playoffs, Harvick plans to run all over the reigning Cup champion.

Those were the angry words Harvick had for Elliott after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where a feud no one saw coming took center stage.

Elliott is NASCAR’s most popular driver and the Cup champ doesn’t make waves on the track. He’s had his arguments with rival drivers before, but the 25-yearold entered new territory when he decided at Bristol that he’d had enough of Harvick’s perceived bullying.

Harvick has never backed down from anyone, on or off the track, and his early career was marked by explosive confrontat­ions that occasional­ly became physical. Known as a master manipulato­r who can mentally derail the toughest competitor­s, most drivers make a genuine attempt not to land in Harvick’s crosshairs.

But when an aggressive sequence for the lead — and probably the race win — resulted in a flat tire for Elliott, he made sure to exact his revenge. If Elliott wasn’t going to win the playoff race, then Harvick wasn’t going to victory lane, either.

“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,” Elliott fumed.

To ruin Harvick’s race, as well as Harvick’s bid to end a yearlong losing streak, Elliott returned to the track after changing his flat tire and deliberate­ly slowed in front of Harvick. By acting as a rolling chicane, Elliott allowed teammate Kyle Larson to catch Harvick and finally, with four laps remaining, pass Harvick for Larson’s sixth win of the season.

“Chase was obviously upset with the contact, was just making things tough on him. It kept me in the game,” Larson said after the victory.

He was celebratin­g as Harvick and Elliott jawed with each other on pit road, Elliott wagging his finger in Harvick’s helmet-protected face. The discussion spilled into the garage area, where reporters picked up Harvick’s promise to run Elliott over moving forward, before the drivers continued their dispute in private.

“Obviously Kevin felt like it cost him the win, which it very well may have. He’s going to be upset,” Larson said. Was he ever.

“I’m ready to rip somebody’s freaking head off,” Harvick said as the crowd roared.

He accused Elliott of throwing a temper tantrum over what should have been a standard racing incident.

“We were racing for the frickin’ win at Bristol, we’re three-wide in the middle,” Harvick said of the sequence.

But Elliott indicated its a pattern with Harvick that he’s tired of tolerating.

“... He does it all the time. He runs into your left side constantly. Sometimes it does cut down your left side, other times it doesn’t,” Elliott said. “Did it to me in Darlington 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.”

 ?? BRIAN LAWDERMILK/GETTY ?? Chase Elliott (9) and Kevin Harvick battle for position during Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
BRIAN LAWDERMILK/GETTY Chase Elliott (9) and Kevin Harvick battle for position during Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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