Despite racing his guts out and giving maximum effort, Brad Keselowski still ended up losing Sunday's NASCAR Texas race to Jimmie Johnson.
That sort of thing always seems to happen to Johnson's opponents in the Chase. Carl Edwards has been there. So has Denny Hamlin. So have Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon.
And now, with a seven-point deficit and two races to go, Keselowski could be the latest driver to leave it all on the track but still come up short.
"It don't feel good, but there is a part of you that just feels like you're first in class," Keselowski said, meaning Johnson is in a league of his own.
Can you blame him? Keselowski is performing better than anyone ever imagined, stringing together inspiring runs week after week. His Chase has been one of the best in history so far and would have given him a huge lead in some other seasons.
But not this year, and not when facing Johnson.
Part of the reason, Keselowski said, is Johnson seems to be getting everything to go his way – just like the caution flags in Sunday's race. The sequence of events helped Johnson win while Keselowski finished second.
"When you catch the breaks that he caught today with the yellows and then you execute like they can, you're unbeatable," Keselowski said. "I'm confident that we can execute at a high level. I'm confident that the way it's worked over the last three weeks – we haven't caught good breaks or bad breaks, and he's caught several really good ones –that will come back around.
"And when it does, we'll change these seconds and fifths or whatever they are over the last few weeks into wins. I feel like that's bound to happen over the next two weeks, and we have the team to pull it off."
The No. 2 team can still beat Johnson straight up if it wins at Phoenix and Homestead – no matter what else Johnson does. So in that sense, Keselowski said, "we still control our own destiny."
"That's about all you can ask for," he added.
But while it's possible, can Keselowski really out-run Johnson by seven positions in the next two races? Though Homestead might be a similar race to Sunday's Texas showdown, Johnson has a significant advantage at Phoenix (at least on paper). After all, the No. 48 team has won there four times.
Keselowski, though, said the repaved and redesigned Phoenix track means it's a "whole different animal," and the history there is "not that significant."
"Looking at it that way, I'd say it's probably a heads-up match going into Phoenix and probably the same going into Homestead," he said. "We just need to win the heads-up matches.
"We didn't today. That's not good, but it's not bad either. I think there is still plenty of potential to do that."
Sitting in the media center, Keselowski looked far from defeated. He maintained his typically calm and reasonable persona, but acknowledged a championship this season "is not going to come easy."
"But anything worth doing in life shouldn't come easy, and I appreciate the efforts of the people that I'm around to make it happen, " he added. "I appreciate the fact that it's difficult, because it brings out the best in everybody. As a group, I feel like we've brought our best, and I'm really proud of everybody for that."
Other tidbits from Keselowski:
• The Penske Racing driver didn't think he raced Johnson too hard or dirty late in the race, when the two bumped and nearly wrecked while battling for the lead.
"Hell, anytime you run close to certain guys, you're racing them dirty according to some people," he said. "But I raced hard, and we both came back around, so there's something to be said for that."
Still, Keselowski knew they were close to wrecking, and he didn't want a repeat of what happened with Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen.
"That's just not the way you want to run a race, and not the way I want to win a championship," he said. "That was pretty much the only choice I had was to put ourselves in a bad position like I did before. I felt lucky to survive that one."
• Keselowski didn't want to make a big deal out of NASCAR's non-call on Johnson for beating him to the start/finish line on the final restart. After all, other drivers said he jumped a restart earlier in the race.
"I think NASCAR said before they're not going to get out a micrometer and measure that kind of stuff," he said. "That's kind of the interpretation of the rules right now. Via that interpretation, I think it was probably fair play on both sides."
• Though he accepted responsibility for sliding too far into his pit box on a late-race stop, he also said Danica Patrick could have given him more room. Keselowski lost eight spots and had to drive his way back up through the field.
"I've got to take the blame where blame is deserved, and I felt we could have gotten a little more help from the car that we were around," he said. "In that particular case, it probably wouldn't have made a significant difference, but it would have made a difference."