Larson wins at Bristol: Four drivers eliminated from Cup Playoffs

By Rod Mullins
For Augusta Free Press

larson bristol nascar
Kyle Larson in the winner’s circle. Photo courtesy Bristol Motor Speedway.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Larson picked up his first victory at The Last Great Colosseum on Saturday night passing Kevin Harvick on lap 397 to win the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

It was Larson’s 12th career win and his sixth overall of the season driving for Hendrick Motorsports.

But while Larson was basking in the big win, the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs eliminated four drivers from the playoffs as the series packs up and gets ready to head to Las Vegas next week.

“Yeah, that was an awesome race,” replied Larson following the race. “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.”

And for a time late in the race, it did not appear that Larson was going to pick up that sixth victory on the season as Kevin Harvick, winless in 2021, quietly and patiently worked his way through the field and took over the lead late in the race.

As the laps were winding down, Larson gradually closed the gap between himself and Harvick.  Then the Hendrick Motorsports driver decided it was time to practice his gambling skills a little early before heading to Vegas and Larson made the pass with three laps to go.  Despite Harvick making contact to the rear of Larson’s Chevy Camaro, the regular season champ held his line and kept his car under control on the frontstretch.

“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.”

Larson’s move to the front came with a little help from teammate Chase Elliott who took Harvick’s line at the .533-mile track as Elliott slowed up the Stewart-Haas Racing driver to allow Larson the opportunity to roll the dice and make the pass on Harvick with three laps to go.

But while everything was burnouts and fireworks in celebration of the win for Larson, a different kind of fireworks took place near pit road between two former NASCAR champions as Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick exchanged a little more than congratulations to each other following the event.

“It’s just chicken (expletive),” replied an angry Kevin Harvick after the two were separated. “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.”

The pass and flat tire that Harvick referenced took place 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 and his Chevrolet into the outside retaining wall and made contact. That push to the wall was all it took to cut down Elliott’s right front tire on his Camaro on lap 466, forcing last year’s NASCAR Cup Series champion to pit under green, go three laps down and fall out of contention for the win. Elliott would get one lap back passing Harvick.

Elliott then served as the spoiler of the party for Harvick as he took Harvick’s line at the top of the high banks at Bristol, forcing Harvick to slow up and giving Larson the window of opportunity late in the race.

To Elliott, at some point you have to draw the line and the Dawsonville, GA driver did just that and did not back away from Harvick and his point of view.

“It’s something that he does all the time,” replied Elliott who wound up 25th on the night. “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.”

After the two were separated, both drivers made their way to Elliott’s trailer in the pits to privately air their grievances with one another.

While the celebration and confrontations were going on, four drivers were eliminated from the playoff picture, left to lick their wounds and reflect on what could have been as Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch and Michael McDowell were eliminated from the playoffs in the cutoff race of the Round of 16.

Hendrick driver William Byron snagged the final transfer spot by the skin of his teeth, finishing third behind Larson and Harvick to advance to the field of 12.

Of the 12 drivers who advanced to the second round of the playoffs, 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 sole driver from Stewart-Haas Racing to advance to the Round of 12.

The Cup Series’ next race is the South Point 400, scheduled Sunday, Sept. 26 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Las Vegas track hosts the first of three races in the next phase of the postseason in the  Round of 12.

61st Annual Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race

Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol, Tennessee
Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021

  1. (5) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  2. (8) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 500.
  3. (14) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  4. (7) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 500.
  5. (11) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  6. (10) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 500.
  7. (1) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 500.
  8. (22) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 500.
  9. (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 500.
  10. (19) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 500.
  11. (3) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 500.
  12. (13) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  13. (20) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 500.
  14. (17) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 500.
  15. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
  16. (28) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 500.
  17. (27) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 500.
  18. (12) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 500.
  19. (15) Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  20. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 499.
  21. (9) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 499.
  22. (21) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 498.
  23. (25) Chris Buescher, Ford, 498.
  24. (16) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, 498.
  25. (4) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 497.
  26. (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 497.
  27. (35) JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 495.
  28. (26) Cole Custer, Ford, 494.
  29. (6) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 493.
  30. (36) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 487.
  31. (33) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 482.
  32. (38) David Starr(i), Toyota, 482.
  33. (37) James Davison, Chevrolet, 474.
  34. (34) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Accident, 375.
  35. (30) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, Accident, 313.
  36. (29) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 216.
  37. (32) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, Accident, 215.
  38. (24) Ryan Newman, Ford, DVP, 177.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  87.409 mph.
Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 2 Mins, 56 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.227 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  8 for 71 laps.
Lead Changes:  23 among 7 drivers.

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