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Kevin Harvick
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Harvick: Las Vegas penalty ‘just motivates us’

Kevin Harvick said Friday that the psyche of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team is undaunted, explaining that a midweek penalty after last Sunday’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway “just motivates us.”

Harvick’s response may be reason enough for the rest of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field to be worried at ISM Raceway at Phoenix, easily one of the veteran driver’s best tracks.

“It says a lot about our team,” Harvick said Friday before opening practice for the series’ fourth race of the year. “A lot of us didn’t know where we were going to stand as far as performance. As a whole, Stewart-Haas Racing, we were within a half a lap of winning every race so far. You can’t knock anything that we have done and everybody has done a great job.

“We have a lot of momentum and these things tend to make you closer, stronger and better.”

MORE: Harvick says no decision yet on appeal

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced the No. 4 team was found in violation of Sections 20.4.8.1 (dealing with rear window support) and 20.4.18 (rocker panel extensions) in the 2018 NASCAR Rule Book. A brace meant to support the rear window was found to have failed, and the rocker panels (side skirts) were not made of aluminum.

In addition to the loss of seven playoff points, the team lost 20 points from the overall championship standings and crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $50,000 for the L1-level penalty. Car chief Robert “Cheddar” Smith is set to serve the first race of a two-event suspension this weekend.

Childers noted that it has been a bit tough without Smith and agreed that the penalty is motivational.

“(Harvick has) actually talked about the last 24 hours how badly he wants to come out here and win and just kind of put everything to bed,” Childers told NASCAR.com after Harvick qualified 10th. “In all honesty we haven’t been as good here lately as what we should have been or what we were in our early years here at Phoenix. We did better last fall; we had a top-five car most of the race. Normally qualifying in the top 12 is a good thing for us here. To qualify top 10 is pretty good. …

“The car’s been driving good, we really haven’t had to make many adjustments and I haven’t had to work on it a whole lot,” he continued. “It’s always a deal where he needs to kind of get in a rhythm – that’s the reason he’s good here, he kind of gets in a rhythm and gets stuff figured out and today just doing qualifying runs it was hard to get in a rhythm and get sorted out.”

Childers added later, “The best way is just to go out there and run good and prove a point. So that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) marks the second event in the three-race NASCAR Goes West swing for the sport’s top series. Harvick is aiming to become the series’ first driver since Joey Logano in 2015 to win three consecutive races.

Harvick tops the 1-mile track’s all-time win list with eight Phoenix victories in his career, but he hasn’t won here since March 2016. That triumph capped an especially successful stretch of six wins in an eight-race span in the Arizona desert.

RELATED: Drivers to win three straight racesNo. 4 team penalized

Contributing: Jessica Ruffin