BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Larson crossed Bristol Motor Speedway off his wish list with a victory in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, but it didn’t happen without a major assist.
The assist came from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who served as a rolling blocker to help Larson run down Kevin Harvick in the final 15 laps of the race.
“That was an awesome race. It was so cool to be able to race there for the win,” Larson said.
Saturday’s event served as the final race in the opening round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell were all eliminated from championship contention at the conclusion of the 500-lap race.
Larson had a strong car all night, but in the final 50 laps he found himself chasing Elliott and Harvick. Elliott had taken the lead from Larson just after a restart with less than 90 laps left and Harvick had moved into second shortly after.
Harvick initially caught Elliott with 62 laps left and spent nearly 30 laps looking for a way by. When traffic blocked Elliott’s path with 36 laps left Harvick made his move, getting to the inside of Elliott.
The two would make contact with 35 laps left while racing side-by-side in turn four. That pushed Elliott up the track and allowed Harvick to take the lead. Second later Elliott slowed with a flat left-rear tire and he was forced to the pits as a result for two fresh tires.
That elevated Larson up to second and he began to run down the 45-year-old veteran while Elliott moved by both of them with his new left-side tires. Elliott took a swipe at Harvick when he drove by and then spent the rest of the race hanging in front of Harvick, taking away his line and allowing Larson to close in.
Elliott was still lingering in front of Harvick with less than 10 laps left and Larson was still looking for a way around. Larson struck with four laps left, rolling to Harvick’s inside entering turn three before sliding up in front of him coming out of the turn to take the lead.
Harvick nearly turned Larson twice coming down the frontstretch immediately after Larson made the pass, but Larson somehow kept the wheel straight and continued on to win his first race at Bristol and his sixth win of the season.
“Obviously Harvick and Chase got together,” Larson said as he summed up the end of the race. “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.”
Harvick settled for second, but he was far from pleased with Elliott after the race. The two exchanged words on pit road and again in the garage area before eventually going into Elliott’s team hauler to have a private conversation.
“I just told him that was kind of a chickenshit move there that he did there at the end,” Harvick said of his initial conversation with Elliott on pit road. “We’re racing for the freaking win at Bristol. We’re three-wide in the middle and he throws a temper-tantrum…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. Just hate it for our Subway Ford Mustang team,” Harvick continued. “I’m ready to rip somebody’s freaking head off.”
Elliott finished 25th after leading 129 laps during the race and he, naturally, had a different opinion of what happened on the track between himself and Harvick.
“It’s something he does all the time. He runs into your left side constantly and sometimes it does cut down your left side, other times it doesn’t,” Elliott said. “He did it to me a few weeks ago at Darlington because he was tired of racing with me. Whether he did it on purpose it doesn’t matter. At some point you have to draw the line.”
William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman completed the top-five in Saturday’s race.