CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Rick Hendrick first began to worry when Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman had electrical issues at nearly same time.
By the time reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott was deliberately crashed by Kevin Harvick and nearly knocked out of the playoffs, Hendrick had seen enough destruction on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"I was upset. I was ready to go home. It was time to get the helicopter and get out of here," Hendrick said. "We wrecked everything we had down there."
Good thing the boss stuck around: Larson rallied from his early electrical issues Sunday to win for the seventh time this season and storm into the third round of NASCAR's playoffs. It ended a topsy-turvy day for Hendrick Motorsports in which Larson and Elliott advanced, Bowman and William Byron were eliminated, and Elliott was nearly sabotaged by a vengeful Harvick.
Harvick laid in wait to deliver payback on Elliott for Elliott costing him a win at Bristol three weeks ago and the retaliation came at about the halfway mark. Harvick sent Elliott into the wall and on the verge of playoff elimination.
Just as the crews for Larson and Bowman had done earlier to salvage their races, Elliott's No. 9 team went to work and got the driver back into contention. And even with his bumper flapping in the wind off the back of his Chevrolet, Elliott drove through the field and into position to ruin another day for Harvick.
The team said on their radio Elliott should wreck Harvick if given the chance and maybe that caused Harvick to worry. As Elliott closed on Harvick as they hurtled into the first turn with 10 laps remaining, Harvick botched the entry almost as if he was defensively driving in his rearview mirror
Harvick drove directly into the wall, crumpled the front of his Ford and the crowd erupted as Elliott cruised through the crash scene. Just like that, Harvick's title run came to its earliest end since the elimination format began in 2014.
Harvick had advanced to the third round the past seven years and all the way to the title race five times. He didn't admit to wrecking Elliott as payback for Bristol, but he didn't deny it, either.
"You remember Bristol," Harvick said the first time he was asked about his intentions. The second time he was asked he responded "sometimes real life teaches you good lessons."
On the day he made his 750th career start, he finished 33rd and was eliminated along with Christopher Bell, Byron and Bowman.
When asked if the two are now even, Harvick simply walked away.
Elliott subtly masked his pleasure.
"As far as Kevin goes, I just want to wish them a merry offseason and a happy Christmas," Elliott said.
Is it over as far as Elliott is concerned?
"For us, we're just eyes forward and happy to be moving on," Elliott said. "That's the big picture. We'll keep fighting."
Larson, meanwhile, had plunged to 36th when he began to lose power. The lengthy stops to change the battery and the alternator belt saved his race and staved off his own startling flirtation with an early playoff exit.
"I noticed my battery was going low, I was getting stressed out, 'Like man, I'm not going to get knocked out of the playoffs like this!' It wasn't looking too good," Larson said. "You think you're good then all of a sudden you're running like 40th. I knew I was going to have some sketchy moments. I just had to pick my way through traffic and stay calm."
Larson became the first driver in NASCAR history to win three road course races in a season. He passed Denny Hamlin for the lead with eight laps remaining to become the first driver since Kasey Kahne in 2006 to win both the Coca-Cola 600 in May and Charlotte's fall race in the same season.
It was the 36th overall win at Charlotte in any configuration and all series for Hendrick Motorsports, which is headquartered five minutes away from the track.
The Larson victory ended Elliott's streak of two consecutive wins on the hybrid road course/oval that Charlotte officials designed in 2018 to add an interesting new circuit to the playoffs. The venue didn't disappoint on Sunday as drivers jockeyed over 109 laps trying to avoid playoff elimination.
"Just a wild race for so many different people," Larson said. "So many drivers had to overcome something. I don't think there was anybody that probably had a smooth race at all."
Ty Dillon will return to full-time competition next season as the driver for GMS Racing in its inaugural Cup season.
Dillon has run four Cup races this year with Gaunt Brothers Racing and 11 Xfinity Series races with three different teams. He lost his ride at the end of 2020 and has been trying to claw his way back into a seat, and GMS Racing said Dillon was the only driver the team seriously looked at for the job.
Dillon will drive the No. 94 Chevrolet for the team in an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and ECR Engines. The car number dates to the 1990s when current GMS Racing president Mike Beam partnered with Bill Elliott to form Bill Elliott Racing to field the No. 94.
The original Bill Elliott Racing shop is still a current part of the GMS Racing facility.
RICK WARE RACING
Rick Ware Racing will be a full Ford team in 2022 with an alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Yates Engines.
RWR has fielded four cars per race this year and owns three charters and leases a fourth. The team owner is under pressure to unload some of the charters to focus on fielding competitive cars.
Ware said Sunday he will have two cars next year, perhaps a third.
"I'm not prepared to run four cars at this time," Ware said.
Daniel Craig capped his final opening weekend as James Bond with a stop at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he waved the green flag on NASCAR's playoff race.
Craig is a car enthusiast — he said he's currently driving an "Audi RS6 which is quite pokey" — and has previously tested for Aston Martin on a closed course. Sunday was his first NASCAR race.
The opening race of the third round of the playoffs Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — AJ Allmendinger charged into the semifinal round of the Xfinity Series playoffs with an overtime victory Saturday in the elimination race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Allmendinger improved to 3-0 on the hybrid road course/oval added to the NASCAR schedule in 2018. He wasn't in the inaugural race, won by Chase Briscoe.
Allmendinger took the lead for the first time with 20 laps remaining and had the win in sight — he had a nine-second lead — when Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution with four laps remaining. It pushed the race into overtime for a two-lap sprint to the finish and Allmendinger got the jump on the restart and cruised to a 3.192-second victory over reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric.
"I knew (the caution) was coming out. I knew it wasn't going to go simple like that," Allmendinger said. "It's special to win this race three years in a row. This car was stupid fast. The big picture is the championship but getting another win — three in a row here at the Roval — it means the world to me."
Allmendinger, the regular-season Xfinity Series champion, collected the checkered flag and gave it to a young fan in the Charlotte grandstands wearing an Allmendinger shirt. It was Allmendinger's fifth win of the season, tying his career high set in 2006 when Allmendinger raced in Champ Car.
He's won eight times on road courses across NASCAR's Cup and Xfinity Series. Six of those wins are in the Xfinity Series.
The crowd chanted "AJ! AJ! AJ!" for the popular journeyman who was partially retired in 2018 and is now racing for his first NASCAR championship. He turns 40 in December.
"It was three years ago when I didn't know what the heck I was going to do," said Allemendinger. "Never give up because the moment you give up is the moment you never had a chance to begin with."
Allmendinger was entered in Sunday's elimination Cup playoff race and goes into the event coming off a win on the last road course on the schedule, at Indianapolis in August.
"The road course races we've done, we've had a lot of speed," the Kaulig Racing driver said. "Today was the important day, tomorrow is the fun day. I respect the guys who are going out there with a lot more on the line tomorrow. I'll be careful around them."
Jeb Burton, Myatt Snyder, Jeremy Clements and Riley Herbst were all eliminated from playoff contention as NASCAR cut the Xfinity field from 12 to eight. All four eliminated started the race on The Roval below the elimination cutline.
Cindric was the only driver locked into the next round after non-playoff drivers Josh Berry and Brandon Brown won the first two playoff races. With the win, Allmendinger reclaimed the lead in the Xfinity standings.
Allmendinger and Cindric move on to the semifinals along with Daniel Hemric, who finished third, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton.
Harrison Burton at 15th was the lowest-finishing driver to advance.
While his teammate Valtteri Bottas enjoyed his first win of the season at the Turkish Grand Prix, it was a frustrating Sunday for Lewis Hamilton as he missed out on a podium spot and also lost the overall championship lead to Max Verstappen.
Hamilton started 11th because of a 10-place grid penalty, drove his way to third, but wound up a disappointing fifth after his team ordered a late-race tire change. The Mercedes strategy allowed Verstappen to swing the championship race from down two points to Hamilton to now leading by six with six races remaining.
"It was frustrating at the time, because I could see second (place) and then I'm back in fifth," Hamilton said about Mercedes' decision. "In that moment I only have a certain amount of information and the team has other information. It's hard to want to give something up when you don't know the whole picture."
But Hamilton, the winner of a record 100 F1 races, also reflected on what might have happened.
"Could we have stayed out? Who knows. If you look at a couple of other drivers that did, they dropped off massively and lost positions, so it was a risk either way," he said. "If I'd stayed out you don't know if I'd held position, but I'm a risk-taker so I would have wanted to take that risk."
F1 now leaves Europe, and next up is the U.S. GP on Oct. 24.
"With the (six) points it's not going to be easy. We'll see in Austin how it's going to go," Verstappen said. "I think some tracks can be a bit better (for us)."
Sergio Perez capped a strong day for Red Bull by finishing third.
Hamilton was fastest in Saturday qualifying but wasn't credited with the pole because of an engine change by his Mercedes team. He seemed headed for a podium finish but Mercedes called him in for the tire change over Hamilton's objections.
The call may have given Verstappen a bigger gap in the championship.
Hamilton finally came in for new tires on Lap 51 but did not agree with the decision.
"Why did you give up that place?" a frustrated Hamilton barked on team radio using an expletive.
Hamilton was getting increasingly agitated after his pit stop as he lost ground to Charles Leclerc and had Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri gaining on him.
"Just leave it alone," he snapped to his race engineer when informed of Gasly's gap.
Leclerc pitted earlier than Hamilton and finished fourth, missing out on a 14th career podium. Gasly finished sixth ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren.
Carlos Sainz Jr. drove his Ferrari from the back to a strong eighth-place finish, both he and Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren started from the back after complete engine changes.
Sainz Jr. was voted the day's best driver, to his surprise when told about it.
Bottas locked up his first win of the year when he passed Leclerc with about a dozen laps left. It was the first win for Bottas since the Russian GP in September last year.
"It's been a while" he said. "Probably one of my best races ever in Formula One, everything was under control."
His 10th career win was a much-needed one during a frustrating last season with Mercedes before joining Alfa Romeo next year. He clocked the fastest lap on the 5.3-kilometer (3.3-mile) Istanbul Park circuit beneath a grey sky amid persistent drizzle.
Bottas made a better start than Verstappen, which has rarely been the case. The Finnish driver hit 100 kph (62 mph) in 3.09 seconds compared to 3.17 for Verstappen as spray kicked up from the wet track.
Starting fifth, Fernando Alonso made a move on the outside of Gasly, who clipped Alonso's rear left tire and sent him spinning off. Back on track, Alonso also had contact with Haas driver Mick Schumacher. Gasly and Alonso both got five-second time penalties for the incidents.
Hamilton soon jumped from 11th to ninth on the start but had trouble getting past AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda with no DRS. Tsunoda blocked one attack well, but Hamilton overtook on the outside then caught Lance Stroll on the next lap, and Norris soon after.
Hamilton then clocked three straight fastest laps as he chased down Gasly in fifth. He got him, too, on Lap 15 but his relentlessly high speed was wearing down his tires.
As Sainz Jr. carved his way through the field, fastest laps switched between Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton again, and Leclerc. Drivers waited for the track to dry out more before changing tires. But the rain started falling again.
Mercedes told Hamilton to box for new tires on Lap 42.
"Why?" said Hamilton, and did not come in.
"OK, we'll stay out one more lap," his engineer told him.
Hamilton refused again, then finally accepted.
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