AVONDALE, Ariz. --- Brad Keselowski's crew chief was headed to the pre-race driver meeting when Juan Pablo Montoya cut him off at the door.
"The next two weeks, you better bring your worst cars," Montoya told Roy McCauley.
"Why's that?" McCauley asked.
"Because they are going to get wrecked," Montoya warned. "Somebody is going to wreck him, if Denny Hamlin doesn't do it first."
The banter was friendly, and Montoya smiled as he delivered the message. But he certainly wasn't joking.
NASCAR's newest hotshot driver is quickly racking up a long list of enemies who are trying to make his transition to the big leagues a rough one. First up is Hamlin, who is openly feuding with Keselowski over a series of at least five Nationwide Series incidents dating to last season.
What's not in dispute is that the two have rubbed fenders, pushed each other around on the track and maybe changed lanes once or twice without using their signals.
Each time, though, Hamlin made his point with finesse and Keselowski moved on unscathed. Not so for Hamlin, who has five wrecked cars to show for the times Keselowski has pushed back.
Hamlin, now at his boiling point, is done being subtle. A late-race exchange at Phoenix International Raceway started with a bump from Hamlin, but it ended with two shoves by Keselowski that sent him into the wall. Hamlin later promised to exact his revenge in Saturday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"There's a lot of guys that owe him," he said. "There's a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they're going to cash in. I'm just going to be the first to the pay window."
Revealing his intent might not have been the smartest move for Hamlin. He now has a team wondering whether it is spending good money on a big-name driver who has already earmarked the car for the scrap heap.
Aware of the growing list of disgruntled drivers, top NASCAR officials called Keselowski in for a chat about aggressive driving before Sunday's Sprint Cup race. Even Chairman Brian France popped his head in. When the 25-year-old emerged, it wasn't clear whether he'd heard the message.
"I've dug and clawed for everything I've got, and the only way to do that is by being aggressive," he said. "That's not to say I need to be aggressive every race. There's races where you need to play it cool and be smart."
There really is no reason for Keselowski to change his style. It's exciting and created controversy. He's won six Nationwide races and landed a Cup ride with Roger Penske.
He's been defended by Nationwide Series team owners Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both insist that as long as he's in control of his car and not intentionally causing accidents, anything goes.
Others aren't so sure.
His only Cup victory came in a last-lap crash at Talladega in April, when he hooked the rear of Carl Edwards' car to start an accident that sent Edwards sailing into the safety fence. That brought attention and new opportunities for Keselowski, but it also might have created a monster.
The groundswell of drivers turning against him stayed fairly quiet until his feud with Hamlin hit high gear in September. They played bumper-cars at Dover, and Hamlin ended up in the wall. They raced hard at California, and Hamlin ended up in the wall. Then came Phoenix, where NASCAR officials clearly believed Keselowski's second hit on Hamlin was intended to wreck him.
After the first two incidents, Earnhardt defended his driver and wondered whether Keselowski maybe wasn't inside Hamlin's head. But he also said Keselowski had no plans to back down.
Hamlin might view it as stubbornness or arrogance, and he is convinced Keselowski has some hard lessons ahead.
"I'm racing for a Chase, and he's racing to make sure he stays in the seat," Hamlin said. "I'm just going to do my job, and if the opportunity arises, I'm going to handle the situation, the way I should. The way anybody else would."