Kevin Harvick is one of an elite few at the top of his era in the NASCAR Cup Series, but nothing on Harvick’s resume absolves the 2014 champion of accountability.
Why, then, are we so quick to dismiss his wrongdoings over the years?
Sure, this column is inspired by the events that took place Sunday (Oct. 10) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL that saw Harvick flat dump Chase Elliott in an attempt to pay back the defending series champion for the events that took place a few weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway.
And yes, the universe took care of Harvick’s playoff hopes so Elliott didn’t have to.
But this is a trend from Harvick that is nothing new — acting as if he’s invincible when taking matters into his own hands.
After the Bristol scuffle, which hit a fever pitch after Elliott blocked Harvick out of the win following Harvick’s aggressive move that cut Elliott’s tire in a battle for the lead, a litany of articles were brought up discussing Harvick’s checkered past, usually focusing on his early 2000s fights with now-retired drivers like Greg Biffle and Ricky Rudd.
Let’s revisit some of his more recent antics, which certainly feel a lot more manipulative than dirty and start from perhaps the most egregious moment in the playoff era outside of Spingate.
Yes, the 2015 fall race at Talladega Superspeedway — ironically, another elimination race in the Round of 12, just like the ROVAL was this year.
With a transmission issue on what looked to be the final restart of the race, Harvick pulled to the right and got out of dodge as the field came to the green flag. But a Jimmie Johnson spin before the race restarted allowed Harvick to maintain his 12th-place position.
Harvick maintained his spot in line this time, forcing traffic behind him to swerve to avoid him. That was all well and good until Harvick swung right into Trevor Bayne to trigger a multi-car crash and race-ending caution, allowing Harvick to finish 15th and advance into the next round of the playoffs.
The move seemed blatant to some, but not to everyone.
“Obviously, there’s some of the teams that have questioned what the [No.] 4 car did on the restarts,” NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said that day. “We went back and walked through with them, but procedurally from NASCAR, we don’t see anything there that is of suspect so far.”
Years went by and the incident seemed to vanish into the NASCAR ether. That was until its memory came rushing back at Martinsville Speedway in 2020.
Harvick, who dominated the year with nine wins alongside Denny Hamlin’s eight victories, found himself in pure desperation mode on the final lap of the season’s penultimate race, realizing he was on the outside of the cut line looking in.
That desperation drove Harvick to spin Kyle Busch in an attempt to gain the final necessary point to advance. The problem was Harvick wrecked himself worse and backed into the inside wall while the field rolled past, leaving Harvick out of the Championship 4.
Perhaps it was karmic that Harvick missed the next round after such a desperate move. Maybe it was instead a lesson learned that the dirty move may not be worth it next time.
As evidenced by the ROVAL, not quite.
Still fuming from the aftermath at Bristol, in which Elliott denied Harvick his first victory in a full season, the wily veteran exacted his payback on lap 56, where he accelerated into the back of the No. 9 car exiting turn 7 and sent Elliott hard into the outside wall, destroying the rear before Elliott crashed with Cole Custer, Harvick’s teammate.
Karma — and perhaps paranoia — won out again. Elliott’s team did a marvelous job to repair the vehicle just enough to remain competitive and Elliott drove through the field, still trying to advance to the Round of 8.
Another motivating factor? Dumping Harvick.
Gustafson: “If we get a chance to wreck him, that’ll lock us in.”
Elliott: “Don’t you worry.”
D’Hondt: “Oh, it’s gonna happen.”
Watch out. #NASCAR
— Zach Sturniolo (@zachstur) October 10, 2021
Except … he never got the chance.
On lap 100, just as Elliott neared Harvick for the first time since the incident, Harvick peeked in his mirror entering turn 1 and overcooked the corner, driving head-on into the outside wall, wrecking himself out of both the race and the playoffs.
— Noah Lewis (NASCAR) (@Noah_Lewis1) October 10, 2021
Dirty driving begets little success in return.
I understand Elliott is not innocent in this particular scenario. However, Harvick’s past follows him in the twilight of his career.
He remains one of the best drivers in today’s Cup Series. That doesn’t negate the high standard he should be held to as a champion of the sport.
“Sometimes, real life teaches you good lessons,” Harvick told NBC Sports following his early exit in reference to whether his contact with Elliott was payback.
Perhaps the lesson here is this: Elliott rallied back into the playoffs while Harvick’s hopes for a 2021 title are officially over.
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