The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have seen the development of a heated rivalry between Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, and it reached even greater heights over the weekend. With the season still underway, does anyone have the upper hand?
NASCAR had one of its most entertaining races on the year when the Cup Series hit the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Sunday afternoon. Not only did this race serve as an elimination race for four playoff drivers, but it highlighted one of the rivalries that had been brewing before the engines even fired.
Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick both found their cars with damage at the end of the race, but the context started from several races prior.
The two drivers found themselves in a heated battle at Bristol Motor Speedway in the round of 16 finale, which gave roots to an unlikely rivalry.
At the the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked oval in Bristol, Tennessee, Harvick and Elliott were racing for the win with 35 laps to go when they drove their cars in deep through turns three and four, sending Harvick up into Elliott and causing the latter to suffer a flat tire.
Elliott, several laps down after making an unscheduled pit stop, ended up driving into Harvick, trying to replicate the move, but to no avail. He then found that the quickest way to cost Harvick the victory was to hold him up until teammate Kyle Larson could drive by for the win.
But from there, the rivalry was far from over.
Harvick and Elliott exchanged words after the race ended, but it didn’t end there. Both took to the media to tell their side of the story. Harvick claimed race manipulation on the Dawsonville, Georgia native, and Elliott responded that Harvick was “entitled to his opinion” and that he was fine as long as everybody let the issue “weigh over”.
But it didn’t end at Bristol, nor did it visibly continue in the next two races. Instead, Harvick waited until the cutoff race at the Roval to wreck Elliott, with hopes of ending his season.
While that could have settled the score, Harvick later drove his car into turn one too deep, sending him into the wall. With a wrecked race car, he watched the #9 Chevrolet drive by to finish in 12th place and advance to the round of 8.
Meanwhile, Harvick was forced to head to the infield care center while listening to a roaring crowd amid the realization that his hunt for the 2021 title was over.
So with Harvick out of the playoffs and Elliott moving on, who truly won the battle?
The words of Martin Truex Jr. in 2018 might creep into Harvick’s head. Truex stated that Joey Logano may have won the battle, but “he ain’t winning the damn war” in reference to their finish at Martinsville Speedway. Even though Logano moved Truex out of the way to win that race, Truex implied that he would make sure that Logano didn’t win the title.
That didn’t go Truex’s way and Logano was able to win his first championship. But in that case, both drivers were in the running. In a situation now with one driver on the outside looking in and one still in the fight, who truly won this battle?
The short answer is Elliott. As many have alluded to, Harvick’s season-ending wreck was a product of mirror driving, when he realized that Elliott was right behind him after the prior wreck. And of course, most importantly, Elliott moved on to the round of 8 and Harvick didn’t.
This is also the second year in a row that Harvick has attempted to wreck someone in order to try to advance — and subsequently failed to advance.
But in wishing Harvick a “merry offseason and a happy Christmas”, does Elliott have to mirror drive when the #4 Ford is behind him? There are only four races left in the 2021 season to find out, and Martinsville Speedway is set to host the round of 8 finale. This track is an ideal place for any driver to unleash his inner 2015 Matt Kenseth. Only time will tell, but the upper hand goes to the driver still racing for a championship.