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Analysis: Harvick’s ‘playoff moment’ one of many defining clutch performances

AVONDALE, Ariz. – It may have only been the fourth race of the year, but Kevin Harvick said Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway felt like a more than just another trip to Victory Lane.

“This weekend felt like a playoff moment for us,” Harvick said.

Not only did it mark his third straight victory of the season – something that has only been accomplished 24 times in NASCAR’s modern era – but it came as Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team raced with the weight of an L1-level penalty after last week’s win in Las Vegas.

RELATED: Harvick gets win No. 40 | Drivers with three wins in a row

The SHR driver had said the team would use the chatter surrounding his team this week as motivation to win.

It worked — and it felt good.

“It felt more important to win this week than it did to win at Homestead for a championship,” Harvick said. “It felt like that and everybody felt it, we didn’t even have to really say anything. Those are the moments that you just love to live in and be a part of and succeed in because you can’t even explain them unless you’re a part of them because they’re just so rewarding.”

But history has shown that Harvick’s ability to perform in clutch situations — much like Tom Brady with the New England Patriots — is nothing new.

He’s been doing it since the beginning of his career.

RELATED: Recap all of Harvick’s Monster Energy Series wins

“Gil Martin — he was my crew chief for most of the years at RCR — he used to try to make me mad during the race and say things to me,” Harvick said. “And he would just try to tick me off because he would always say, ‘Man when you’re mad, it’s just something different.’”

In 2014, a win at Charlotte Motor Speedway put the No. 4 in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Playoffs and paved the way for the team to win the Monster Energy Series championship the following month. He won in 2015 at Dover to secure his place in the Round of 12 after 42nd and 21st-place finishes left him in an uncertain spot heading into an elimination race. Playoff wins at New Hampshire and Kansas in 2016 locked Harvick into the next respective rounds after slow starts in the opening races of the Round of 16 and Round of 12 had him on the wrong side of the cutline. Last season, a win at Texas Motor Speedway put him in the Championship 4 as he chased down Martin Truex Jr for the lead and race win late in the race. 

Harvick doesn’t just perform well in these pressure-filled situations – he thrives in them. 

“I’m 42 and I’ve been doing this a long time and any time you can reach out and grab motivation, for me that’s just a piece of a puzzle that I like to be a part of and feel the controversy and that enthusiasm and succeeding in these types of moments with all that controversy swirling around you, there’s nothing better,” he said.

“There’s nothing louder than the actions of parking that car in Victory Lane.”

RELATED: Career stats for Harvick | Clutch NASCAR Playoff performances

Once he took the checkered flag Sunday, the No. 4 pit box erupted with cheers, applause and high-fives. A crew member wrapped crew chief Rodney Childers into an excited hug. When Harvick climbed out of his car, he banged the back of the window to celebrate the statement victory.

“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun and everyone was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp (the other drivers),” Harvick said. “We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly. I’ve just got to thank everyone …What a badass team right there!”

Sunday, he made history with three straight wins. Next Sunday, the team will go for a fourth straight win at Auto Club Speedway, an intermediate track where Childers said he feels confident about the team’s chances. If Harvick has any motivation like he had this weekend, it doesn’t look like many would stand in his way.

After all, four for 4 has a nice ring to it.