Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch don't need extra incentive to want to race hard. It's their nature to push things to the limit in pursuit of a checkered flag.
The bump-and-pass technique, or "tapping," is one of the more anger-inducing tactics during a NASCAR Cup Series race, and technically is against the rules. Still, what is considered a violation or just aggressive gamesmanship is subject to interpretation, especially during a short-track event in which the speeds are not nearly as high. Unless somebody is wrecked, fans generally enjoy watching a little tap maneuver.
In serious situations, a driver might do a risk/reward assessment to see if the advantage gained from a slight tap is worth chancing a punishment.
With four regular-season races remaining – including Sunday's 400-mile event at Pocono Raceway — the push for bonus points for the playoffs is as serious as it gets.
Harvick leads Busch, 32-30, in points that will be added when the 16 playoff participants have their point totals reset. Busch, however, leads Harvick, 844-791, in the regular-season standings, and that winner gets 15 bonus points, compared to 10 for placing second.
Last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick had the faster car but Busch was leading late in the race. Harvick's No. 4 Ford 'nudged" Busch on consecutive laps, but the No. 18 Toyota held the lead. On lap 295, however, Harvick tapped Busch in a curve, and this time, he pushed Busch up the track, passed him and then powered home for his series-high sixth victory.
There was no debating why Harvick moved Busch out of the way.
"That's a 10-point swing from a playoff standpoint," Harvick said Tuesday during his "Happy Hours" show on SiriusXM NASCAR radio. "I just had it in my mind to be aggressive."
"I enjoy racing Kyle and race him hard. And I expect him to race me hard. … But I can tell you that it's different when you're sitting here and won the race than it is when you're sitting on the other side of the fence."
The danger of a bump-and-run move on a fast track such as "The Tricky Triangle" lowers, but doesn't eliminate, the odds of a retaliatory move this Sunday. But be assured that Busch doesn't forget.
The next short-track race is Aug. 18 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway is the next short-track race, and considering it concludes the regular season, the title hunt among Busch, Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. could be settled then.
"Harvick was using me up there for about four or five corners in a row, which is fine," said Busch, who used a retaliatory tap to pass and beat Kyle Larson in Chicago. "I think he could have made the move work cleaner than that, but it's all fair game. How you race is how you get raced."