After the feud intensified between Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott at Bristol Motor Speedway, Joey Logano flashed back to his heated rivalry with veteran Matt Kenseth.
In 2015, the then-25-year-old Team Penske racer was having a banner season—one statistically he’s been unable to match. With a career-high six wins and six poles, Logano was leading the standings and racing for his fourth-straight victory coming to Martinsville Speedway for the first race in the Round of 8.
Two weeks prior, Logano used his bumper on Matt Kenseth at Kansas Speedway with six laps remaining in the race to take the lead and the win. Not only did Kenseth lose the race but also the chance to qualify for the next round. The veteran, who was enjoying a five-win season at the time, made sure that, if he wasn’t going to advance to the Championship round, neither was Logano.
When the tour rolled into Martinsville, Logano led a race-high 207 laps--until Kenseth pile-drove him into the Turn 1 wall with 46 laps remaining. Mission accomplished by Kenseth. Sure, NASCAR parked the usually affable veteran for two weeks, but Logano’s title hopes went up in smoke that day.
From past experience, Logano knew entering the Roval there was a potential for fireworks to ignite between Harvick and Elliott. Logano was prophetic. Having had his own run-ins with Harvick, including the infamous, ‘We know his wife wears the firesuit,’ moment from Pocono, Logano knows all too well the consequences of being on Happy’s bad side as well as Kenseth’s.
“I’d be nervous,” Logano said with a laugh. “I’d be maybe a little nervous about the situation—depending on who gets on to the next round or not. It could really affect how things go. I feel like I’ve learned a lot of lessons in this sport. Some have cost me a lot. That (Martinsville) might be one that really cost me a lot.”
Yes, Logano learned a valuable lesson six years ago. Despite ending up on the hook Sunday afternoon, Harvick quipped, “Sometimes life teaches you good lessons,” when asked if punting Elliott on Lap 55 was retaliation for Bristol.
Perhaps the lesson for Harvick? Timing is everything. When using the chrome horn, make sure you’re not trying to eliminate your competition when they have ample time to return to salvage the race, as Elliott did following multiple repairs to the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“If we get a chance to wreck him, that’ll lock us in,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said of Harvick.
He didn’t have to tell his driver twice, “Don’t you worry,” replied Elliott.
Spotter Eddie D’Hondt reinforced the mission, “Oh, it’s going to happen," he said.
Game on. But Elliott never had to apply the bumper. The threat alone was enough to take Harvick out of the race and out of the Playoff as he locked up the left front of the No. 4 Ford and plowed into the Turn 1 wall with 10 laps remaining in the race--and with Elliott in hot pursuit.
Team owner Rick Hendrick believes Elliott and the No. 9 team handled themselves well.
“Of course, they were upset,” Hendrick said. “Everybody was upset when that happened today. It looked like Chase could be done and out of the Playoffs. I mean, it was a lot of heated feelings.
“He came back... Harvick wrecked himself, I guess. I hope it's over. We don't want to race that way. We want to just race. That's not our style. Just go out, if a guy is better than you, he wins. Just do your job. If you get beat, you get beat. It never feels good to push somebody out of the way. I mean, a little rubbing or something, that's okay. But just to wreck somebody, that's not good.”
But this feud is far from over. Hendrick knows it. Elliott knows it. And NASCAR is laughing all the way to the bank. Despite officials sitting the drivers down at Las Vegas, Harvick felt scorned after Bristol. He wasn’t just going to give Elliott a pass.
“Games are played every day,” Logano said. “I believe when you’re out there racing for a win, it’s a battle from every standpoint. Whether it’s on track or off track, I believe it’s a battle. And it ratchets up.
“Kevin has been known to be that guy at times. I can count many times when he’s made little comments to me, and that ratchets up as the intensity picks up. I feel like he may think it’s a tool in his box that he can use—and maybe it’s successful for him. It’s probably why he does it.”
NASCAR Executive Vice President of Competition Scott Miller addressed the Harvick-Elliott rivalry on SiriusXM Radio on Monday. He compared the tenor of racing at the Roval to a short track where anything can happen and usually does.
“It’s pretty obvious—and again I kind of bring that race track back to a Martinsville-type of situation,” Miller said. “Close confines. Chase put a kind of aggressive pass on Kevin and Kevin tried something and it didn’t work out.
“We definitely have something brewing between those two. We spoke to them after the thing at Bristol and we’ll circle around. I don’t know if we’ll talk to them together or separately to see where they are right now. But we don’t need that continuing on. We’ll do what we think is necessary to kind of get that one calmed down.”
Good luck calming down Harvick. While he may have shown his hand prematurely at the Roval, unless Elliott locks himself into the Championship Round with a win at Texas or Kansas, Martinsville provides the perfect venue for exacting revenge.
“Every situation is different,” Miller said. “Now we’ve had Bristol, where one felt slighted on. Yesterday, the other felt slighted on. Hopefully, we can put a truce in place there, but we will just continue to monitor the situation and really try not to let it get out of control.
“We don’t want to park anybody. We want all the fans to see the drivers that they come out to see. So that would be a last resort. But if we keep seeing things, we will absolutely have to take some action."
Short of parking one driver or the other, Miller’s words have very little teeth. NASCAR has been waiting for a rivalry of this magnitude. This one happens to be between one of the most hard-nosed, outspoken veterans and NASCAR's most popular driver.
And it’s just getting started.