Last night, the NASCAR Cup Series returned to Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Last time NASCAR’s premier series was at the historic track was for the Food City Dirt Race, where the entire half-mile track was covered in red clay, leading to an exciting exhibition of driver’s skill on dirt tracks, with Joey Logano eventually coming out on top in his number 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang. Last night’s event, however, was the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, a 500 lap, 266 mile race under the lights. In addition to being one of the most anticipated races of the season for many fans, last night’s race was the closing race of the playoffs Round of 16, in which the bottom four of the 16 playoff drivers would be eliminated from championship contention. With all this, the venue is known to provide the fan-favorite and close short track racing.
Starting in first was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 Toyota Camry, with teammate Denny Hamlin starting alongside in the #11 Toyota. Behind in third would be the track’s most recent winner, Joey Logano in the #22 Ford, with reigning champion Chase Elliott starting fourth in the #9 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro. Behind them would be regular season champ Kyle Larson in the #5 Hendrick Chevrolet, and the #20 Toyota Camry of Christopher Bell. The rest of the top 16 would include the remaining playoff drivers, starting with Ryan Blaney in the #12, Kevin Harvick in the #4, Kyle Busch in the #18, Brad Keselowski in the #2, Alex Bowman in the #48, Aric Almirola in the #10, Tyler Reddick in the #8, William Byron in the #24, Kurt Busch in the #1, and Daytona 500 champ Michael McDowell in the #34.
Coming to the green flag, Martin Truex, Jr. would take the lead with his teammate Hamlin behind on the opening lap. Hamlin was then passed by Chase Elliott who would later pass Truex for the lead, soon dropping down to third. With how fast laps are here and how close the racing is, one small mistake can cost you many positions and just as many laps, and Truex found that out the hard way. Over the course of the first stint, Truex lost many spots, falling all the way down to tenth place. Then on lap 41, the competition caution came out.
At the restart, Chase Elliott was in first, with teammate Kyle Larson alongside. Elliott would pull away to a four car-length lead over Larson, after a few laps of pressuring the #5. Third place driver Denny Hamlin then passed the Hendrick driver for second place. Larson would eventually take back second, and when he did he caught up to Chase Elliott who had gotten caught up in lapped traffic. He passed the #9 of Elliott, and Hamlin in the #11 followed suit. After coming from the inside and making contact with Elliott, Hamlin took the second spot. Though the same problem that Chase had would also cost Larson the lead – lapped traffic. Hamlin then passed Larson and retained his lead for the remaining 34 laps of the stage. With five laps to go, Larson would have an attempt at passing Hamlin for the stage win. After catching up to Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, driving the #23 Camry owned by Denny Hamlin, was in Larson’s path, keeping him from completing the pass on Hamlin. Hamlin in the #11 would go on to win the stage.
While pitting, Chase Elliott’s #9 was caught for speeding on pit road, which meant he had to forfeit position and start at the rear. At the restart, Larson started on the outside lane, with Hamlin on the inside. Larson and the top lane rolled off the start very fast compared to Hamlin and the bottom, and pulled away from the rest of the pack for a bit. Hamlin would hold on to third though, with Brad Keselowski in the #2 Ford Mustang in second. Eventually, Larson was passed by the #2 and #11, going back to third, as the two leaders battled for first place. Further behind the leaders, Ryan Newman in the #6 Ford and Cole Custer in the #41 Ford came together with Newman going into the wall. This caused a big check-up from the #99 Chevrolet of Daniel Suárez, which caused him to be hit in the left rear by Bubba Wallace in the #23 Toyota. This brought out the first caution for an incident. Both the #23 and #99 had big damage to their cars, though both were able to continue.
Keselowski restarted on the bottom lane, with Larson and Hamlin on the outside. Larson and Hamlin got a huge run off the top side, with Keselowski falling back to fifth. At lap 220, Corey LaJoie in the #7 sent the #38 of Anthony Alfredo into the wall, with Alfredo collecting the #78 of BJ McLeod and the #77 of Justin Haley. This would bring out the second crash-related caution of the night, and a red flag to clean up debris and fluid.
For the restart, it was once again Keselowski on the bottom with Larson and Hamlin on the top. Larson then got a run and cut down to block Keselowski. Hamlin then passed Keselowski for second, though it wouldn’t be enough as Larson would go on to win the second stage.
For the restart, the leaders had started far back due to different cars staying out for track position. On the inside, it was Christopher Bell in the #20 Toyota and Ryan Preece in the #37 Chevrolet. On the outside was Kevin Harvick in the #4 and Ryan Blaney in the #12. As always, the top lane would move quickest, with Harvick and Blaney getting a big run. Harvick would lead, though Bell and Blaney were batting for second. Blaney would prevail, as Bell fell to fourth with his teammate Truex in the #19 moving up to third. After getting caught in lapped traffic, Harvick lost the lead to Ryan Blaney. The two swapped the lead back and forth, as they both constantly got caught behind lapped cars. Harvick eventually cleared most of the traffic, and pulled away to a hefty lead over Kyle Larson, who had made his way through the pack back up to second. Larson tried each lane – top, bottom and center – to try and pass Harvick in the #4, but he couldn’t complete the pass. Once they reached lap traffic, Harvick had gotten stuck behind the #66 Toyota of David Starr, allowing Larson to pass on the bottom lane. Much farther back in the pack, the #00 Chevy of Quin Houff had a left rear tire go down, sending him into a spin. The #47 Camaro of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. attempted to avoid the spinning #00 by swerving into the pit lane which sent him into a half spin. This marked yet another caution flag.
Coming back to the green flag, Kyle Larson lined up on the outside, with Denny Hamlin right behind him. The inside was occupied by Kevin Harvick, with Chase Elliott behind. At the restart, Larson and Hamlin had passed Harvick, leaving him in third. Elliott fell back to sixth, letting Kyle Busch in the #18 have fourth and Ryan Blaney fifth in the #12.
While being lapped, Quin Houff in the #00 once again had tire issues, though this time he would not be able to continue.
At the restart, Larson and Harvick once again lined up on the front row, on the outside and inside respectively. Behind Larson was Hamlin, and behind Harvick was the #48 of Alex Bowman. Larson would lead, with Harvick falling to third. After a few laps, Denny Hamlin challenged Larson for first place. Hamlin’s right front tire made contact with Larson’s left rear fender, cutting Hamlin’s tire and sending him into the wall. This would bring out another caution, putting Hamlin out of contention for the win.
Larson restarted on the inside with his teammate Chase Elliott right behind in the #9. On the outside, it was Harvick with Bowman behind. Larson got a good restart, and before entering turn one, he cut to the outside, blocking Harvick. Elliott moved up and took second from Harvick, and then put the bumper to the back of his teammate, Larson, in the #5. Elliott would take the lead from Larson with 88 laps to go.
After passing Larson, Harvick began to challenge Elliott for the lead. After catching lapped traffic, Harvick got to the inside of a slowed-down #9 car. Going into the next turn, Harvick sent his car, expecting Elliott to give some room to allow him to take the lead. Elliott, however, doesn’t give anything, and he and the #4 made contact. Harvick lost his car slightly, making even more contact and cutting Elliott’s left front tire. This forced Elliott to pit under green flag conditions, losing almost three laps with 34 to go. Exiting pit road, Elliott was right behind the leaders on fresher tires, allowing him to drive up to the leader, Harvick, and make contact with him to show his displeasure with the way he was raced. For the remainder of the race, Elliott would drive in Harvick’s racing line, making the leader lose lots of time as he couldn’t pass the lapped #9 car. Eventually, because Elliott was holding up Harvick, the second place car of Kyle Larson was able to catch up to the leader. With a huge run off of the fourth corner, Larson passed the #4 of Harvick. In a display of frustration, Harvick attempted to spin the new leader with three laps to go, though it would prove to be ineffective. Larson would lead the remaining three laps without challenge and win the Night Race at Bristol!
Kevin Harvick finished second in his #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang with the #24 HMS Chevy of William Byron finishing third. Ryan Blaney in the #12 Penske Ford crossed the line fourth, Alex Bowman’s #48 Hendrick Camaro fifth, Brad Keselowski sixth in the #2 Penske Ford, and Martin Truex, Jr. seventh in the #19 JGR Camry Rounding out the top-ten was Erik Jones in the Richard Petty Motorsports #43 Camaro finishing eighth, Denny Hamlin ninth in his #11 JGR Camry, and Matt DiBenedetto tenth in the Wood Brothers’ #21 Ford Mustang.
After the race, Kevin Harvick swerved his car into Chase Elliot’s car on pit road. The two drove their cars down pit road and came to a stop at the end of the lane. They got out of their cars, and Harvick walked over to Elliott. They began arguing, then the argument gradually got more intense. Towards the end of it, the two started shoving each other while arguing, though the NASCAR officials had separated the two before an inevitable fight broke out.
After the altercation, Harvick said to NBC Sports “Kind of a chicken sh*t move that he did there at the end” after being asked about how he was raced by Elliott “We’re racing for the fricken win at Bristol, we’re three-wide in the middle and he throws a temper tantrum.” Elliott said “I don’t care who he is, or how long he’s been doing it, I’m gonna stand up for myself and my team” after asked why he would pulled such a move.
After the interviews were over, Elliott and Harvick had yet another argument, this time while being monitored by a security guard. After realizing they wouldn’t be able to discuss in private, the two went to Elliott’s hauler, where Harvick would leave a few minutes later, still infuriated.
Photo Credit///Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images