Kyle Larson celebrated victory in Saturday‘s Bass Pro Shops Night Race with a burnout on the frontstretch at Bristol Motor Speedway, as tempers flared between Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott on pit road.
With an assist from Elliott, who took Harvick‘s line at the 0.533-mile concrete track and slowed his progress, Larson made the winning pass on Lap 397 of 400 and sealed his sixth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season.
At the other end of the spectrum, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch and Michael McDowell were eliminated from the playoffs in the final race of the Round of 16. William Byron snagged the final transfer spot into the Round of 12 by finishing third behind Larson and Harvick.
That result gave Byron a two-point edge over Almirola and Reddick, the first two drivers knocked out of the postseason field.
On Lap 465 of 500, as Harvick was attempting to pass Elliott for the lead, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford pinched Elliott‘s Chevrolet toward the outside wall, with contact between the cars cutting a tire on Elliott‘s machine.
Elliott brought his car to pit road on Lap 466, lost three laps in the process and returned to the track behind Harvick. On new tires, Elliott quickly passed Harvick to get one lap back and took Harvick‘s line at the top of the track.
Larson gradually closed on Harvick and made the winning pass on Lap 397. Larson did an admirable job keeping his car under control as Harvick retaliated with contact to the rear of Larson‘s Camaro on the frontstretch.
“Yeah, that was an awesome race,” said Larson, who won for the first time at Bristol and the 12th time in his Cup Series career. “It was so cool to be able to race there for the win. Obviously, Harvick and Chase got together. 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 (Turn) 2, 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.”
While Larson celebrated, Harvick and Elliott traded their views of the finish in a heated exchange on pit road.
“It‘s just chicken-(expletive),” Harvick said after the confrontation broke up. “I don‘t know what else to say. Throw a temper tantrum like you‘re two years old because you got passed for the lead and got a flat tire. We barely even rubbed. It‘s all Chase‘s way, or it‘s no way. If he doesn‘t get his way, he throws a fit.”
Not surprisingly, Elliott had a different interpretation of the events in the closing stages of the race.
“It‘s something that he does all the time,” said the reigning Cup Series champion, who finished 25th. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks, and sometimes it does cut down your left sides. Other times it doesn‘t.
“Whether he does it on purpose, it doesn‘t matter. At some point, you‘ve got to draw the line. I don‘t care who he is and how long he‘s been doing it. I‘m going to stand up for myself and my team, and we‘ll go on down the road.”
Of the 12 drivers who advanced to the second round of the Playoff, four represent Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott, Larson, Byron and Alex Bowman); four represent Joe Gibbs Racing (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell); and three represent Team Penske (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney).
Harvick is the lone driver from Stewart-Haas Racing to advance to the Round of 12.
Both Kyle Busch and Bell survived cut tires near the end of the race to clinch spots in the next round. Blaney finished fourth and Bowman fifth on Saturday night. Keselowski, Truex, Erik Jones, Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto completed the top 10.
Harvick and Elliott later continued their discussion behind closed doors in Elliott‘s No. 9 transporter.
The Cup Series’ next race is the South Point 400, scheduled Sunday, Sept. 26 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Nevada track hosts the first of three races in the next phase of the postseason, the Round of 12.