Team Penske's Brad Keselowski had been under fire this week for not respecting his peers or paying any attention to the criticism they have of how he races them on track. But that's okay, because Keselowski's not listening to any of that anyway.
"I honestly haven't paid that much attention to it," he said on Friday after qualifying in second place for this weekend's Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. "I knew early on in the week it was gonna be one of those weeks and I kind of put my head down and focused on Phoenix and my Madden team to kind of get me through, so I honestly haven't spent a lot of time with all that stuff and the rhetoric.
"I think at the end of the day we all have our own biases," he added. "I don't think it's really productive for me to get into the he-said, she-said because at the end of the day we disagree. That kind of is what it is. I think the more I dig into becoming what someone else wants me to be, the less I stay who I am and who I am is someone who can win races and be a championship threat year over year with a great team that supports me, a great cast of family and friends.
"I hate to use that cliché, but I can't spend all my time worrying about the other people. I have to worry about winning this weekend, this race, and this championship. That's where my focus is and will continue to be.
"I'm not looking to become what everyone else wants me to become, so I have not spent a lot of time on that rhetoric and I don't wish to spend a lot of time trying to justify anything I do or don't do," he insisted. "I feel pretty good about the actions I've taken. Certainly I'm not perfect. I've made some bad ones, but I didn't make any bad ones last week and I still feel that way."
Last week's controversy erupted during the penultimate restart in the AAA Texas 500 when Keselowski made a bid for the lead through a narrow gap between Hendrick Motorsports team mates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. The contact cut Gordon's tyre and the #24 spun out for a 29th place finish, and the four time champion stormed into the Penske pit area to confront Keselowski and a huge brawl involving crew members from both the Hendrick and Penske camps ensued.
Keselowski insisted that he had no regrets about making the original move: "You always think about that stuff. I've thought about it and moved on, and feel good about it," he said.
During the week, the under-fire driver had received the public backing of team boss Roger Penske - which is all that Keselowski really felt mattered. "I can say and it means a lot to me that he's been extremely supportive, probably more so than you guys will ever know, and I feel very confident about my position in this sport and with my team at Team Penske accordingly," said Keselowski, who won the 2012 Cup championship with the team. "We spent a lot of time talking this week. We talk a lot anyway, so I should probably preface that point by saying that - we have a really active dialogue, which is one of the reasons why I love driving for him and I'm proud to do so."
Neither Keselowski nor Gordon were penalised over the brawl, and no one from the Penske crew was sanctioned either. However, four members of the Hendrick squad were fined and suspended for throwing punches, including one who decked Keselowski with a punch to the face that left the driver with a cut cheek and thick lip. Keselowski said he took no view on whether the six-race suspension handed down to the crew member responsible was correct or not.
"I didn't really think that much about it," he said. "They took an action. Again, I go back to I have my own set of biases on that, obviously. I don't envy their job, that being NASCAR, at any given time. I'm glad I'm a competitor and not an official because I think no matter what decision they would have made there would be someone saying it was the wrong one.
"I'm not sitting here clapping for joy or angry either way on that direction," he added. "I don't take any pleasure in someone else's pain, so it kind of is what it is there, that's why I haven't put a lot of thought into it ... Really, a lot of these conversations and a lot of these talking points are meant to serve as a distraction, so to sit here and really comment on a lot of them would really be to justify them because I know the things that I'm doing are the right things."
And Keselowski really does need to retain focus on his championship campaign: despite finishing in third place last weekend in Texas after his clash with Gordon, he still finds himself in seventh place in the championship standings when only the top three are assured of a spot in next week's winner-take-all title decider in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The situation isn't as bleak as it was last month going into Talladega when only a win would do (which he then got) but it's certainly no walk in the park either, and pulling another win out of the hat would be ideal right about now since it would automatically put him into the title finale.
"I definitely had to win Talladega," said Keselowski. "Technically, I don't have to win this race, but the probabilities are that I do. I think it will be very hard to pass three cars in points. I think I'm within five on all three, but that means if you didn't win you'd have to beat at least three cars by five spots on the track and these are good guys.
"These are good drivers and good teams, there's a reason why they're this far in the Chase and to beat all three of those by five spots - that's a tough task for anyone to really feel good about," he admitted. "But you know if you win you're in and that's the great thing about this system and we have a great shot at it, for sure. We have to keep pushing and keep working at it though."