Ideally Kevin Harvick would have a trouble-free playoff run, maximizing the fast cars Stewart-Haas Racing and crew chief Rodney Childers provide him near weekly and rolling to a second championship in three years.
Except it's never been that way. Even amid the wins and the championship, Harvick, Childers and the rest of the No. 4 team have routinely had to overcome situations in which their title aspirations would come to an early and crushing end if they didn't execute flawlessly and produce a win.
But each time, when it seemed Harvick was headed for certain Chase for the Sprint Cup elimination, he's demonstrated an innate ability to rise up and come through in the clutch. Two years ago, he went 2-for-2 when faced with must-win situations including a stirring victory in the championship round. Last season, he stomped the field in the knockout race at Dover International Speedway, where anything less than a win would've ended his title defense prematurely.
The latest example demonstrating Harvick is at his apex when his back is against the proverbial wall came Sunday when he won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. No, it wasn't a "must-win," per se, as Harvick could've still won next week at Dover or accumulated enough points to stave off a Round 1 elimination, but the significance was essentially the same.
Coming off a frustrating, bad luck-induced 20th-place finish in the first Chase race, Harvick couldn't afford another slip-up. Anything short of a top-10 finish and he would have no margin for error at Dover.
Those concerns are now gone. Harvick's spot in the Round 2 bracket is secure, as is his status as one of the championship favorites.
"When you get in these situations, it's fun to be able to succeed," Harvick said. "It's kind of like an addiction. You just love the rush of being able to be behind and be able to perform and make that happen. It's something that is very gratifying."
If Harvick's words don't send a wave of trepidation up the spines of those who must oppose him, they should. He is someone who speaks candidly about doing whatever it takes to win and the need to look out for one's self interests, consequences be dammed.
Because what makes Harvick a foreboding opponent is more than just an ace crew chief and fast Chevrolets capable of keeping pace with a Toyota juggernaut that's led 56 percent of the laps this season, it is his knack for overcoming adversity when a distressing event inevitably occurs. And in a Chase format that can be cruel -- Jimmie Johnson was eliminated last season when a $5 part broke -- that is an invaluable characteristic.
"It's really the nature of our team," Harvick said. "It's one of those things where you get behind a little bit, and I feel like that's something I like because you can motivate yourself and you can motivate everybody around you by your actions and the things that you do and the attitude that you carry to the car on practice days and how you present yourself in the meetings.
"We've just got to keep performing at that level. A lot of times you can talk yourself into being so amped up that you can talk yourself into making mistakes or doing things wrong, and this team has done a great job."
To beat Harvick requires not only excellence on the track but mental resilience off it. And though such a mindset may not deliver a second championship, it certainly assures he will again be a major factor throughout the playoffs.