CONCORD, N.C. — The prevailing thought that the Chase Elliott-Kevin Harvick feud from Bristol Motor Speedway might have simmered or otherwise fizzled? Turns out those were underestimated, and their cars emerged with more damage Sunday from the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval than they did at their previous Bristol clash — whether it was self-inflicted or meted out intentionally.
In the end, Elliott moved on in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet severely scarred from a run-in with his newest rival but with a hard-fought 12th-place finish in the Bank of America Roval 400. And though Elliott pledged to exact revenge later in the race over the No. 9 team communications, Harvick made that a moot retribution point by overcooking Turn 1 in the final stage, unceremoniously ending his day 11 laps short of the 109-lap distance and scuttling his postseason hopes.
Post-race, Elliott tried to keep his remarks to his own team’s performance but couldn’t resist the dig.
“Yeah, I mean, our team has a lot of fight. I’m just super proud of that,” Elliott said. “As far as Kevin goes, just want to wish them a merry offseason and a happy Christmas.”
Christmas in October. Elliott’s unseasonable salute came 76 days early, stemming from their Lap 55 confrontation — one that rekindled the flames from the postseason’s previous elimination race.
Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing nudged Elliott’s car into a slide as the two exited the infield portion of the oval-road course hybrid. Elliott crunched the outside retaining wall, damaging the back of the No. 9 Chevy and sending him into a slide on the oval’s banking.
After a check at the infield care center for his later crash, Harvick dodged when asked whether his bump of Elliott was intentional. He told NBC Sports, “Sometimes real life teaches you good lessons,” and offered to PRN Radio that, “You remember Bristol.”
Elliott remembered, too, with the team vowing revenge in their radio chatter. The payback for the payback never quite materialized. Instead, the No. 9 team buckled down and tried to stem the crash damage. Elliott’s chances for a third consecutive Roval triumph were hampered, but the patchwork did the trick for salvaging a playoff-saving result.
“Everybody did an amazing job. I think this is an optimum result for what we had today, probably overachieved by far what most teams would have done,” said Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief. “… It’s satisfying to overcome that, for sure. I think it’s, diamonds are made from pressure, right? So that’s going to help us.”
Said Elliott: “We could have easily given up or not fixed it to the proper standard and had something break or had a tire rub. Everybody just did a really good job today and I’m super proud of that coming off of a really fast car. I thought we had a shot to win. Obviously that didn’t happen. In the grand scheme moving on is the most important thing. Our season is still alive. I’m pumped.”
By day’s end, both cars were battered, with Elliott moving on to the postseason’s Round of 8 in an effort to defend his Cup Series title and Harvick continuing outside the playoff picture. As to whether their relationship would stay contentious, Rick Hendrick — Elliott’s team owner — said he hoped Sunday’s flare-up was the end of it.
“I think they’ve handled it well,” Hendrick said of the No. 9 team’s composure. “Of course, they were upset. 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, was able to (advance). 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 OK. But just to wreck somebody, that’s not good.”