Kevin Harvick appeared to be en route to ending a 36-race drought—until he was tag-teamed by Team Hendrick at the Last Great Coliseum.
When the smoke cleared, Kyle Larson rose victorious, knocking off the event he wanted the most from his NASCAR bucket list—the Bristol Night Race.
With an assist from Chase Elliott, Larson passed Harvick with four laps to go, but not before the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford gave it one more shot—into the bumper of the No. 5 Chevy.
“It was so cool to be able to race there for the win,” Larson said. “Obviously, Harvick and Chase got together. Chase was upset. Kind of held him up. It got Harvick having to move around and use his tires up off the bottom.
“I started to get some dive-ins working off of two, got a big run, decided to pull the trigger, slide him, squeeze him a little bit. Then he had me jacked up down the frontstretch. It was wild. But had my hands full.”
Still, despite earlier damage from contact with Denny Hamlin, Larson held off Harvick by .227-seconds at the line. William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman rounded out the top five.
While the storyline throughout the 500-lap race was which of the 16 Playoff drivers would advance to the Round of 12, suddenly the spotlight was on Harvick and Elliott and the potential of a budding rivalry between the old guard and the new. As Yung Money celebrated on the front stretch, Harvick and Elliott had words on the back stretch pit road until officials pulled the two Playoff drivers apart.
“I told him it was kind of a chickenshit move that he did there at the end,” Harvick said. “We’re racing for the freakin’ win at Bristol. We’re three-wide in the middle and he throws a temper tantrum, like I was just trying to get the lead and race him hard. Then he pulls up in front of me and just sits there until I lose the whole lead, so I just hate it for our Subway Ford Mustang team to be able to lose a race like that. I watched him let the 24 go by and then anytime you run into him it’s a problem. They (the fans) can boo all they want. I don’t care.”
Elliott was furious with Harvick for not just roughing him up for the lead on Lap 465, but cutting his tire in the process.
“Well, it's something he does all the time,” Elliott said. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks. 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.”
Problems started early for the Playoff contenders. Joey Logano was running third when the hose on the right rear caliper came loose on his pit stop during the competition caution. He dropped to 22nd for the Lap 49 restart. He recovered to finish 11th.
Kurt Busch entered the race on the bubble and had nothing to contend with all night. The six-time Bristol winner was absolutely worthless and no adjustment the No. 1 Ganassi team made helped Busch’s cause. On Lap 344, he was lapped by Larson, just to add salt to the wound. He finished 19th—the last car on the lead lap—and dropped to 15th in the standings, six points behind 12th-place Byron.
Denny Hamlin held off Larson to win Stage 1—and the race appeared to be shaping up as a battle between the two. When the leaders came to pit road, Elliott was busted for speeding and restarted 21st on Lap 134.
The first caution for an actual racing incident occurred on Lap 168 after contact between Cole Custer and Ryan Newman in Turn 2. Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher were collected in the mess. Aric Almirola was running 10th prior to the caution but was forced to pit when an oil line came loose. After multiple stops on pit road, Almirola restarted 27th on Lap 182. Although he returned to the top 10, Almirola slipped to 18th at the finish and missed the Round of 12 by two points.
The fourth caution erupted in Turn 4 when Anthony Alfredo got sideways and collected BJ McLeod. NASCAR red-flagged the race for 8 minutes to clean the track. Larson continued his 81-lap run to the green-white checkered to win Stage 2 on Lap 251.
Following the second stage, NASCAR announced that Logano, Blaney and Harvick had advanced to the Round of 12. But the hits kept coming for some of the drivers hoping to keep their Playoff hopes alive. Tyler Reddick’s team left lug nuts loose on the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevy. After finishing ninth at the end of the second stage he dropped to 27th. Although he worked his way up to 12th at the end of the race, Reddick fell two points short.
Harvick grabbed the lead in the pits, traded the point with Blaney then took control on Lap 308, but Larson was coming. A spin by Alfredo slowed the race progress on Lap 364 and Bell, who was running fifth at the time, blew past his pit box and dropped to 16th. He battled back to seventh but cut a left front tire on Lap 474. Despite finishing 29th, seven laps down, Bell had enough of a cushion to move on.
Hamlin, who led 65 laps, was battling for the lead with Larson on Lap 400 when he got into the No. 5, cut his tire and hit the wall to bring out the seventh and final caution. Hamlin dropped to 22nd but fought his way back to ninth at the finish.
After earlier issues, Elliott moved up to second on Lap 408 and gave Larson the bumper to let him know he was coming. Four laps later, he passed Larson at the start-finish line for the lead. Harvick moved by Larson for second on Lap 434. Kyle Busch was the next contender to have tire issues. Busch, who was running sixth, dropped to 26th after cutting a right-side tire.
Harvick ran down Elliott on lap 465, then ran into the side of him to take the lead. The contact resulted in a cut tire on the No. 9 Chevy—and an unscheduled stop for Elliott, who dropped to 26th and was fuming. For the remainder of the race, his agenda was to make life hell for Harvick—and he did. Ultimately, Elliott cost Harvick the win at Bristol.
“Whether he did it on purpose doesn't matter,” Elliott said. “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.”
Still, Elliott joined his Hendrick teammates in the Round of 12. Along with Kurt Busch, Almirola and Reddick, Michael McDowell was eliminated from the Playoffs after his 24th-place finish.
Larson extended lead to 30-points over Martin Truex Jr., who finished seventh.
“I love this place," Larson said. "This is by far my favorite track. This is why. You guys are amazing, loud. We feel the energy while we're out there racing. Thanks, everyone, for spending your hard-earned money to come watch us putting on a show. I look forward to the rest of the year.”