AVONDALE, Ariz. -- NASCAR's attempt to keep an even playing field resulted in an angry Kevin Harvick. Which in some ways made for an uneven playing field Sunday afternoon.
Harvick, whose win last week at Las Vegas was tainted by two violations of NASCAR rules and a fairly hefty penalty on his Stewart-Haas Racing team, earned his third consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race by capturing the checkered flag Sunday at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway).
He didn't dominate the race, but a driver in a foul mood focused on winning is the type of Harvick who typically races at Phoenix in November with championship spots on the line and not in March during the early part of the season.
"I've been mad as all get out because this team does a great job," Harvick said. "This organization does a great job and we've got fast race cars. And to take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week."
Harvick wouldn't go into detail about what made him so upset Sunday. He didn't want to rehash a Friday news conference at which he calmly delivered heavy criticism at NASCAR, which he accused of letting social media influence a penalty he felt was inappropriate for the violations.
NASCAR stuck to the letter of its rulebook in determining that virtually any postrace technical violations warrant the loss of any playoff points earned in the event. Harvick had swept both stages and won the Las Vegas race to earn seven playoff points.
He then lost all of those points -- and that could impact whether he advances through playoff rounds. He earned five more playoff points Sunday with the victory at Phoenix to increase his total to 11 on the season.
"Everybody was just determined this week and we just wanted to just go stomp them," Harvick said after leading just 38 laps. But he was the class of the field late in the race in winning for the seventh time in the past 12 Phoenix races.
"We didn't stomp them, but we won. That's really all that really matters," he explained. "I'm just proud of this team. It put a fire in our belly. ... [It's big] to drive it home for all those supporters out there. And all you haters -- I see you."
Harvick talks about trying to find things to motivate him. It often doesn't take much. This week, it was the loss of those playoff points, a penalty of 20 regular-season points to Harvick, a $50,000 fine to crew chief Rodney Childers and a two-race suspension to car chief Robert Smith.
SHR won't appeal the penalty, with team co-owner Tony Stewart figuring it was a worthless venture in trying to obtain the rare victory on appeal.
Plus, there was little argument the car violated the rules at Las Vegas. The rule requires the rear window to be rigid, and it was obviously flexing during the race. The rule requires the side skirt extensions to be aluminum (a rule change made in February), and Childers said he missed the change in wording from metallic to aluminum in a bulletin last month.
The pulse in the garage was that while the violations didn't contribute totally to the Harvick dominance at Las Vegas, it certainly didn't hurt a team that has everything going for it at the moment -- other than a pesky NASCAR tech process.
"I don't think anybody's got anything for Harvick, considering we got our butt beat so bad last week, then we just got beat a little bit this week," said Kyle Busch after leading a race-high 128 laps at Phoenix.
While the talk of motivation from penalties makes a good theme, not all of Harvick's competitors bought into that vibe. Defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., whose team has at times felt the glare of NASCAR officials and garage whispers, said drivers don't need NASCAR penalties to motivate them.
"The feeling of winning and knowing what it takes and knowing how good it is and how hard it is, that's the motivation," Truex said. "Kevin and Rodney don't need motivation. Me and [crew chief] Cole [Pearn] don't need motivation."
But Harvick might be a little different. He seems to feed off the drama, especially at Phoenix, a place where he won in 2012 as news was breaking that he was going to leave Richard Childress Racing after the 2013 season and then won again in 2013 a couple of weeks after ripping Childress' grandkids at Martinsville.
Harvick indicated that Sunday's win gave him as much pleasure as winning a title at the end of the season. The championship certainly pays better and creates more lasting memories, but Harvick had that bullheaded attitude of not going to be denied.
"When you get into those playoff moments, you have all the guys, everybody looking at the race car, that determination of every last detail -- there's a lot going on in life in general, and it's hard to do that every week," Harvick said. "Our team is very good at setting those things aside for 10 weeks during the playoffs. It felt more important to win this week than it did to win a race at Homestead for a championship.
"It felt like that. Everybody felt it. You didn't really have to say anything. Those are the moments that you just love to live in and be a part of and succeed in. You can't even explain them unless you're a part of them, because they're just so rewarding."
Stewart, known for having some moments in which the outside world influenced his motivation, obviously enjoys seeing this type of Harvick.
"When they get on a tear like this, you just kind of stand back and watch and enjoy the ride," Stewart said.
Stewart probably wouldn't have minded if Harvick had jumped on the rear decklid of his car in celebrating the win. Harvick had said Friday he would do that (it's very much frowned upon by NASCAR because it potentially could knock the car out of -- or in to -- compliance) if he won.
Instead, Harvick just stood on the window of the driver-side door and tapped the rear window.
"I didn't jump on the car, but I made it very clear to pat my window and thank it for doing its job this week," Harvick said.
Harvick clearly enjoyed the moment.
"Today, I'm happy. I'm proud to be a part of an organization and a team that is able to succeed and put all that stuff behind them," Harvick said.
"There's not many things that you can do to showcase character. When you showcase character and grit as a team, as a unit, that's more powerful than any of us being good at what we do."