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AP photo by Matt Kelley / Kyle Larson, left, and former Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon shake hands after Larson drove the Hendrick No. 5 Chevrolet to a win in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series playoff race on the Roval course at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

CONCORD, N.C. — Rick Hendrick first began to worry Sunday afternoon when two of his team's four cars, the No. 5 Chevrolet driven by regular-season champion Kyle Larson and the storied No. 48 wheeled by Alex Bowman, had electrical problems at nearly the same time.

By the time the Hendrick No. 9 Chevy was deliberately crashed by Kevin Harvick — nearly knocking reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott 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 to earn his seventh win in a points race 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 for Elliott costing him a win at Bristol Motor Speedway three weeks ago, and the retaliation came at about the halfway mark of Sunday's race on the course that uses part of Charlotte's oval and the venue's road course. The 45-year-old Stewart-Haas Racing driver, who entered Sunday below the cutline to be among the eight drivers into the next round, sent Elliott into the wall.

Just as the crews for Bowman and Larson had done earlier to salvage their races, Elliott's team went to work and got the driver back into contention. And even with his back bumper flapping in the wind, Elliott drove through the field and into position to ruin another day for Harvick.

The team said on its radio Elliott should wreck Harvick if given the chance, and maybe that caused the 2014 Cup Series champ to worry. As the 25-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia, closed in 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, crumpling 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 seven years ago.

Harvick had advanced to at least the third round each year and five times was one of the final four drivers eligible for the championship in the season finale. 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 said that "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 he and Elliott 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."

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.

Larson's victory ended Elliott's streak of two consecutive wins on the Roval, which Charlotte officials designed in 2018 to add an interesting new circuit to the playoffs. The venue didn't disappoint Sunday, when 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."

 

F1: Series lead flips

ISTANBUL — Valtteri Bottas earned his first win of Formula One's 2021 season, but his victory at the Turkish Grand Prix came on a Sunday of mixed results for Mercedes as teammate Lewis Hamilton lost the lead in the series championship standings to rival Max Verstappen, who finished second.

Bottas passed Ferrari's Charles Leclerc with a dozen laps left to lock up his first victory since the Russian GP in September 2020. Sunday's win was the 10th of Bottas' career.

Verstappen was joined on the podium by Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez, who added a second third-place finish this season and also won the Azerbaijan GP in June. Leclerc finished fourth.

Hamilton was fastest in qualifying Saturday but wasn't credited with the pole position because of an engine change by his Mercedes team. He started 11th because of a 10-place grid penalty, made his way to third, then wound up a disappointing fifth after a tire change late in the race.

Verstappen went from trailing seven-time series champion Hamilton by two points to leading him by six as F1 leaves Europe for the year. The next race is the United States Grand Prix on Oct. 24 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

"It's been close the whole year," Verstappen said. "This season has been really good."

The 24-year-old Dutch driver has earned seven of his 17 career wins this season, and he's seeking his first series championship. Hamilton also has seven wins this year, with his Russian GP victory last month extending his F1 record for career wins to 100. The 36-year-old British driver is seeking to break the record for F1 season titles he shares with Michael Schumacher.

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