This is the first of a series counting down the top five NASCAR Cup Series races of 2021. This week, No. 5:
This was the year that good old fashioned, everyone-hates-everyone, payback is a you-know-what rivalries returned to the NASCAR Cup Series.
OK. We didn't exactly get back to Yarborough-Allison or Earnhardt-Bodine, but come on, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick certainly got us back on the right track!
It also delivered the quote of the season from the sport's most popular driver.
"I wanna wish them a merry offseason and a happy Christmas," a stone-faced Elliott said after scratching and clawing his way back through the field at the Charlotte Roval in October. "I'm just glad to be moving on."
Charlotte's playoff race — run on the Roval as the Round of 12 elimination race — checks in at No. 5 on our Cup Countdown after serving up plenty of drama, payback, and bruised egos.
The Harvick-Elliott feud was actually born a few weeks prior at Bristol (more on that race down the road) when a lap-down Elliott didn't exactly move out of the way of Harvick — the race leader who was being chased down by Kyle Larson.
Harvick got into Elliott, the leader at the time, a few laps earlier, forcing him into the wall and onto pit road for a cut tire.
Elliott's comeback: Charlotte Roval features paybacks and comebacks as NASCAR playoffs deliver again
Fast forward to the Roval, and both drivers found themselves nose-to-tail early in the final stage with everything on the line — both were right on the playoff cut-line, and needing a good finish (at least) to advance to the next round.
Naturally, the always subtle Harvick got just a bit too close to Elliott's bumper, sending his No. 9 Chevy into the wall. Somehow, Elliott's team was able to repair the damage just enough to get him back on the track without losing a lap, keeping his playoff hopes alive.
Thanks to the Racin' Gods, Elliott worked his way through the field just enough to get back to Harvick's No. 4 Ford, only for Harvick to miss the next turn and go crashing into the wall.
Eyes forward, Kevin!
"Sometimes real life teaches you good lessons," Harvick said after the race.
If the lesson was perseverance, then it worked!
Elliott managed to pass enough cars in his mangled Chevy to collect enough points to get him back across the cut-line and into the next round. Harvick, meanwhile, was eliminated from the postseason.
Oh yeah, the rest of the race.
Kyle Larson ended up winning, recovering from a bad battery earlier in the day to win his seventh race of the year.
"Just a wild race for so many different people," said Larson, who's team also had to fix an alternator belt in Stage 1. Seriously, nothing was gonna stop the No. 5 group this season.
"So many drivers had to overcome something," Larson continued. "I don't think there was anybody that probably had a smooth race at all."
Of course they didn't, Kyle! Smooth races don't make this Cup Countdown list. We like hurt feelings, angry drivers, and revenge.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Ranking the best NASCAR races from 2021: Harvick-Elliott drama is No. 5