Despite being a serious championship contender, Brad Keselowski's qualifying efforts throughout the Chase have stunk like skunky beer.
Heading into this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway, Keselowski was 20th in Charlotte qualifying, 25th at Kansas and 32nd at Martinsville. His 10th-place start at Dover was his only top-10 start of the Chase.
Keselowski and his No. 2 team haven't made it easy on themselves with poor qualifying positions and have relied on strategy and patience to overcome the deficits. In that sense, an eighth-place qualifying effort for Sunday's Texas race was a welcome turn of events for a driver just two points out of the lead.
But Chase rival Jimmie Johnson's pole-winning performance made Friday somewhat of a mixed bag for Keselowski. Still, the Penske Racing driver said he was "feeling pretty good about everything."
"I feel like we're in a strong position to control our own destiny as far as the Chase is concerned and have a shot at winning it, and that's really all you can ask," he said.
Keselowski said he was proud of his team's improvement in qualifying and added he was "extremely confident in our pace" during practice race runs.
"We know if we do all our things and do them right, we'll be tough to beat – not just for the race, but for the championship," he said.
At Texas, track president Eddie Gossage has put signs all over the property promoting Keselowski's battle with Johnson. There are banners hyping the "campaign" and even voting booths where fans can decide which driver will lead "NASCAR's oval office."
Keselowski said he's "become immune" to such attention at the track, because it's inside "our own walls, our own hangout."
"You just kind of glaze over it, you don't really see it," he said. "When you get recognition outside of the sport, that's when it really starts to sink in."
On the other hand, Keselowski said his team won't be distracted by any hype.
"Our ultimate goal is not necessarily to be the most recognized racers, but to be the best we can be and to live up to our potential," he said.
Though Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne are still somewhat in contention, they would only be able to get back toward the top of the standings if something happened to Johnson and Keselowski. As such, Keselowski acknowledged he and Johnson are "probably the only two that control our own destiny."
"Experience tells us it's probably going to come down to the 2 and the 48," he said, "but history has a way of not showing us all its cards, and it could be a little bit different."
Though some might perceive Keselowski as an underdog who is making a darkhorse run at this year's Chase, the driver said he's determined not to let any chances slip away now that he's so close with only three races left.
He's hungry for the championship, he said, and he has a great deal of motivation to win it.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about what it's going to take and how big it would be to my life to do it," he said.