CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Reigning NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick shrugged off his critics Tuesday and insisted he did not intentionally cause a wreck near the end of the race at Talladega Superspeedway to preserve his spot in the playoffs and keep his bid for a repeat alive.
Harvick was accused by at least four other drivers of triggering an 11-car accident at the end of Sunday’s race to avoid being eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. NASCAR said Tuesday a review of the incident failed to show Harvick did anything intentional, and he also dismissed the claims.
“They can look at it 100 different ways, but you can’t quit. You can’t roll over and be done with it and say, ‘We tried our best,’” Harvick said. “I don’t need to defend myself.”
Harvick had an ailing engine and knew his Chevrolet would struggle to accelerate on a restart at the end of the race. Harvick maintained his position in line, and when Trevor Bayne darted around his slow car, Harvick ended up hooking the back of Bayne’s car, triggering the crash.
Among those who accused Harvick of intentionally starting the wreck were Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, who were both eliminated from the playoffs.
“From their perspective, I can understand their frustration of not being in the Chase,” Harvick said. “I am not going to throw stones because I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do. I did the best I could on the restarts to get going, I got out of the way, and I never even saw (Bayne) until he was by me. You can’t stop. You have to try to let it play out.”
Harvick said pulling out of line because of his ailing engine was not an option because of the stakes involved. He said the last time he quit something was his wrestling season his senior year of high school, and he’s vowed to always play things out since then.
“I quit once in my life and I’ll never quit again,” Harvick said of skipping a regional wrestling match his final year of high school because it fell on the opening weekend of racing. He said he felt at the time he was making the correct decision, but eventually realized how much he let his team down and failed to finish out his high school career.
Harvick acknowledged that the pressure of the Chase dictated his strategy in the closing laps Sunday. Had it been a regular season race, Harvick acknowledged he’d have likely headed to pit road when his engine began to fail.
“If you are at the cutoff race at Talladega, you have to play the restart out. You have to try,” he said. “If it falls on its face, you crash, you still have that little glimmer of hope. That’s your season. It’s a more cutthroat system, for sure.”