Denny Hamlin suffered through what he called a "nightmare-type race" on Monday at Chicagoland Speedway and is 12th in points after the first week of the Chase.
Are his championship hopes on life support already?
"Not at this point," he said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I think if we had another bad finish this weekend, I'd say that's probably the case. There's still a lot of crazy racetracks ahead of us where everyone is going to have a bad finish here and there.
"We still have a shot if we get just consistent and find the consistency that we had last year, we'll be fine. We'll run fine."
But therein lies the problem: Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team haven't been anywhere near as consistent as they were last year, when he looked like the championship favorite.
With occasional struggles on pit road, on the track and on restarts, Hamlin is looking for more reliability in every area.
"We've searched for it all year long, to be honest, to try to figure out what it is," he said, "But it's a new thing every two-to-three weeks. When something goes wrong, it's a new problem. It's not something that's reoccurred. I think that we do a good job of correcting our problems, but not necessarily stopping the new ones from coming up."
Going forward, Hamlin said his goal is to "manage expectations." He admitted it was painful knowing his team has "underachieved quite a bit," but he said it was time to man up and not worry about what could go wrong.
"I don't think anyone has huge expectations for us this Chase," he said. "I personally do – and still do."