But when an aggressive lead streak – and possibly race victory – resulted in a flat tire for Elliott, he made sure to get his revenge. If Elliott wasn’t going to win the playoff race, then Harvick wasn’t on the way to victory 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 on the road,” Elliott fumed.

To ruin Harvick’s run, as well as Harvick’s attempt to end a year-long losing streak, Elliott returned to the track after changing his flat tire and deliberately slowed down in front of Harvick. Acting as a rolling chicane, Elliott allowed teammate Kyle Larson to catch Harvick and finally, four laps to go, overtake Harvick for Larson’s sixth win of the season.

“Chase was obviously upset about the contact, it was just making things a little difficult for him. It kept me in the game,” Larson said after collecting the checkered flag.

He was celebrating as Harvick and Elliott chewed on each other on the pit lane, Elliott wagging his finger in the face shielded by a Harvick helmet. The discussion spilled over into the garage, where reporters took up Harvick’s promise to overthrow Elliott, before the drivers continued their argument in private.

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

Has he ever been.

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

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

“We were racing for the fucking victory in Bristol, we’re three wide in the middle,” Harvick said of the streak.

But Elliott has indicated that this is a model with Harvick that he is tired of putting up with.

“It’s something he does all the time. He’s constantly bumping into your left side on other tracks. Sometimes it cuts your left side, other times it doesn’t,” Elliott said. “He did it to me at Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of beating me. It doesn’t matter that he did it on purpose. At some point you have to draw a line. . ”

Harvick has now raced 36 races without a win, a full year since winning Bristol in last year’s playoffs. It was the last of his nine wins in a season that frustratedly missed a second Cup championship.

Now he’s had a tough season at Stewart-Haas Racing, where teammate Aric Almirola has the organization’s only victory and has been knocked out of the playoffs in Bristol. Harvick is now 12th in the standings heading into the second round of the playoffs, a three-race round in which the field will be reduced to eight.

He said ahead of the start of the playoffs that he didn’t need wins to win the championship, citing Matt Crafton’s 2019 title in a winless season as proof. But that’s certainly not the way Harvick wants to go the last seven races of the season, and this denied victory at Bristol has cost him valuable points he knows he needs.

His frustration was real at Bristol and perhaps a fuse was lit at Harvick which had blown since his elimination from the playoffs last year. If Harvick wants Elliott to move forward, then he is most likely going to get revenge.

But Harvick could wait weeks to play with Elliott on the track, a tactic that could shake the champion if he’s still wondering what Harvick has planned.

This may be a flawed strategy, however. By defending himself, Elliott took an important step in his growth as the face of NASCAR. He’s had issues with Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch before, but Elliott never did anything about it as he ruined Harvick’s race at Bristol.

Larson plans to sit down as a spectator for whatever awaits him for the past seven weeks.

“I’m 5? 6? (And) 135 pounds,” Larson said. “I’m not going to get too upset about anything.”

___

More AP auto races: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP



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