Anyone expecting that the tension between Brad Keselowski and the Joe Gibbs Racing pair of Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin would be heading toward some major on-track retribution this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway may be disappointed to learn that some - but by no means all - of the heat has gone out of the row between the trio ahead of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race. But some verbal blows were still flying on Friday, if not physical ones.
"I don't regret my actions," said Kenseth, who at one point last week got Keselowski in a headlock after pursuing him into the area between the team haulers in the paddock area at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I'm not proud of them or happy about them or any of that, but I don't regret them. I don't know that I would do anything different if the same thing went down again."
Kenseth had been incensed after Keselowski ran into his car on pit road after the race, following a series of on-track incidents between the pair earlier in the evening. Keselowski was subsequently fined $50,000 and put on probation for four races by NASCAR for his actions, while Kenseth was not penalised.
"Last week was bad enough to run bad all night and to be frustrated and then get two tyres and get towards the front, and Brad clearly saw me roll outside of him and he hung a right on purpose and ran me right into the wall and ruined my night and possibly took us out of Chase contention," explained Kenseth.
"I was mad enough about that. And then to come down afterwards and have your stuff off and your net down and come and pull those high school stunts playing car wars after the race was just absolutely unacceptable. That definitely put me over the edge.
"You never want to get into confrontations, at least I don't," he insisted. "I like to avoid them. I'm definitely not built for fighting and it's not really in my genes, not something I ever really want to do. But I guess everybody has their breaking point."
Kenseth added that despite that had transpired, he hadn't been expecting to receive any fines or penalties over what had happened: "It was not a planned action and I didn't go in there with fists flying or anything else like that. I just really wanted to get to him I guess, I'm not sure what I wanted to do when I got there, but I wasn't really expecting one. It was obvious I didn't really have a plan."
For his part, Keselowski had been angered by Kenseth making contact with his car when the #20 took the wavearound with six laps to go in the race, but Kenseth brushed aside the Penske driver's complaints on that score
"Brad is greatly exaggerating that point," Kenseth responded tartly. "If you watch video you can see he had no marks on his right front of his car after that. He said it tore his whole right front off. I did indeed swerve at him when I took the wave around because I was mad he put me in the wall and totally ruined my day, but if you look at his car there is absolutely no damage on it. That was just him greatly exaggerating the story."
When subsequently asked for his reaction to Kenseth's latest comments, Keselowski was unwilling to get drawn back into it. "Do I have to have one? I am just ready to go race here," he said. "He is always entitled to his opinion as I am to mine. We are both entitled to your opinions. Obviously we have a difference of them or what happened Saturday wouldn't have happened."
Keselowski said that he hadn't talked with Kenseth since last week's events and that he had no plans to do so any time soon. "I have no idea. No clue. That is hard to say. It is just not something I have thought about," he said when asked when any such conversation was likely to happen in the future.
As for the fine he received, Keselowski confirmed he had no plans to appeal. "It is what it is. I didn't have a big reaction. Maybe I should have had a bigger one, I don't know," he said. "It isn't something that I didn't understand."
Keselowski had also clashed with Kenseth's JGR team mate Denny Hamlin at Charlotte. Hamlin similarly tried to confront the Penske driver after the race but was pulled away by team officials before anything could happen - although he did throw a towel at his rival's head.
"I really didn't do anything," Hamlin insisted. "Honestly, I gave him a brake check down the backstretch, but besides that I didn't do anything. My team guys wouldn't let me do anything — that was kind of a bummer. The only thing I was trying to do in the garage and even on pit road was just box him in so I could get to him before his team guys got there.
"I don't regret anything and I really didn't feel like I did anything wrong. Obviously from the penalties, NASCAR didn't feel like I did either," Hamlin added after also escaping any post-race fines over the incident.
Hamlin added that he thought it had been fair that, like himself, Kenseth hadn't been penalised for what had happened. "The message as far as Matt is concerned, what else short of really just blindsiding and tackling him, how else are you going to get to him? There's so many crew guys. They won't let you talk to him. He kind of did what he had to do and really you really can't see any punches or anything so yeah, as far as I'm concerned they were holding hands."
Hamlin also said that he had been glad that the penalty handed down to Keselowski hadn't been any more severe than it had turned out to be. "I really don't believe that he deserved a stiffer penalty," he insisted. "You'd hate to [see] a points penalty [deciding the Chase line-up.]
"Any monetary fine is a big deal even though people don't think it still comes out of his pocket," Hamlin pointed out. "That's a big deal, and not only that but also I'm sure there was discussions in the hauler about this is our safe zone, safe area that there are fans and potential crew members around that we don't — it's kind of a zero tolerance policy inside that garage and on pit road."
Hamlin laughed when told that a gambling website had put the odds of another fight involving the trio at 100-1 at some point before the end of the season. "Way too high. It's for either of us right? Well, I mean I don't know. We'll all run into each other at some point in Martinsville. I mean, it's just going to be part of it. So, does that count? Oh, it has to be a fight? Probably about right then? We saw from Saturday night those two aren't fighters."
Overall, Hamlin was sounding the most conciliatory of those who had been involved. "I think Brad's obviously a great talent," he said. "I think that Brad really has taken leaps and bounds over where he was when we had our incidents and I think that was 2008 or 2009. I think he's changed as a person and a driver all for the better. I thought that last week was a bit of a step back for that, but we all have bad weeks and you go through it and you have to just move on. I think Brad knows where I stand and where the other drivers stand on how he's been."
Keselowski himself said that he hadn't had any time to think over the events last week at Charlotte and wasn't about to give any detailed comments. "I am not really ready to get into that side of it," he said at Talladega on Friday. "I am not going to say I haven't spent any time on it but I didn't spend enough to really have all my thoughts and feelings put together enough to share it.
"I have been busy testing Martinsville and getting ready for this weekend. It is a huge weekend for me and our team where we have to really pull out a clutch moment and I don't want to lose sight of that by spending a whole bunch of time on all that other garbage."
"It is more important to win than it has been on other weekends," he admitted. "That is a challenge, a huge challenge, and Talladega isn't a place you want to go to knowing you have to win but we have confidence knowing we have won here twice before. We had a great car in the spring and got caught up in an accident early and another accident. We had great cars at Daytona as well and very similar fates. You know if you have great cars and you continue to put yourself in the right position at these tracks you will eventually be rewarded and I think we are due here at Talladega."
Needing a win this weekend to ensure he stays in the championship battle, Keselowski agreed that he would be heartbroken if he were to drop out of the Chase after this weekend and not stay in with a chance to pick up a second Sprint Cup Series championship (his first came in 2012), especially having come into the play-offs as top seed.
"That will be tough but it happens," he said. "I am not preparing to fail but I am proud of what we have done this year and if we don't win the championship because of this round I am not going to go home and cry in my milk. We have a lot to be proud of, led a lot of laps, won races and won poles. It is almost a career year. There is a lot to take away from it but I am not giving up on it either. I am okay. I am in a good spot."
Kenseth is in a better position in the points than Keselowski to survive the cull of the bottom four drivers from Chase contention that takes place following this weekend's GEICO 500. However Talladega is notorious for being something of a 'crapshoot' in terms of the chances of being taken out in a big wreck caused by someone else in the field that the other drivers have no control over. The reality is that no one is truly safely through other than Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick who have already guaranteed their Chase progression with race wins at Kansas and Charlotte respectively.
"I think it will make for a lot of great storylines, a lot of things to watch," predicted Kenseth. "It's been a race in the Chase since the Chase started [that] you always had in your mind, you're like, 'Oh man, you could come out of that race 43rd as easy as you could come out of there third or second or first.'
"It can be very unpredictable. But it's always been in the Chase and I think it's always had very big implications or had the possibility to have very big implications for the Chase so it's not really that much different right now."
Also weighing on Kenseth's mind is that despite getting this far in the Chase, he's yet to win a race. That's a very different state of affairs to 2013 where he won seven races on his way to finishing as runner-up in the Chase to Jimmie Johnson.
"Obviously I wish we would have won some races by now," he sighed. "The season we had last year, I never dreamed we would go 12 months without winning a race even though I realise how hard it is and you never really lose sight of that because I've been around for a while so you have to enjoy it when it's going good and you realise it's really hard to win races.
"I didn't think we'd be sitting here right now without a win. I certainly wish we had some wins - got five weeks left I guess so we still have a chance to win some races. I hope we have a good day Sunday and get into the next round. Even if we don't, I still think we can win some races before the year is over."
It's clear that a win on Sunday at Talladega would turn Kenseth's season on its head, and it's certainly not too late for him to kickstart a title-winning run even now. All he has to do is stay out of trouble at Talladega - and as the events last week at Charlotte proved, that's easier said than done even when the spectre of feeling the wrath of the 'Big One' isn't hanging over everyone's heads.