Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needs to win a race. If he wins one of the next five events and makes it to the postseason, the celebration by Junior Nation will be deafening.
But what are the realistic chances of a victory by Earnhardt? He has not won a race since 2015, when he won four, and has yet to visit Victory Lane with his current crew chief, Greg Ives.
So far in his final season at Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt has one top five finish -- fifth-place in Texas -- and one pole at the summer event in Daytona.
Last week's event at Pocono, where Earnhardt swept both races in 2014, offered no tonic.
This weekend, he'll return to the road course at Watkins Glen, where he has yet to score a victory or be a contender. It's often cloudy above the serpentine circuit in upstate New York's Schuyler County and Junior Nation can be forgiven for looking for a silver lining. A victory for No. 88 on a track where drivers turn mostly right would be a stunner.
Earnhardt and Ives, in the meantime, are looking for needed speed after the Pocono race.
"We got it a little bit better as the race went on," said Earnhardt, who finished 12th. "But man, I don't know where the speed is that the front three or four have and they've got it every week. We don't have that and we are not going to find it in that garage on Friday or Saturday. If we don't show up with it we ain't going to find it. That is somewhere in the shop. ... So we will have to keep working back there."
The leaders of the No. 88 team may not get much help from their brethren at Hendrick.
Jimmie Johnson, who won three races earlier in the season, is in a mild slump.
Kasey Kahne won the Brickyard 400 with a determined effort -- aided by clever pit strategy that got him into the clean air at race's end.
Chase Elliott may have two playoff bonus points from stage wins and six top five finishes, which makes him the leading candidate to make the playoffs on points. But Elliott has led only four laps in the last 15 races.
There's no doubting that the No. 88 Chevy of Earnhardt has not maintained the pace of this year's front-running drivers -- Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Even if he makes the playoffs, the prospects for a championship in his final season would be dim. And that's a shame.
Invariably honest and willing to share self-assessments in ways that few NASCAR drivers ever seem to muster, Earnhardt may be missing what's needed to post a win. It's not necessarily a conscious thing, but when drivers know they are nearing the end of their careers the mettle to get on the ragged edge required for speed begins to ebb.
Indeed, the recent retirements of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as well as the sudden departure of Carl Edwards probably reflect their realizations that they were no longer as willing to push the limit. They made exits before rim-riding to victory became a little too dicey.
For Earnhardt, there's the double whammy of having already incurred a serious injury, the concussion syndrome that sidelined him last season. Given that shadow, more than just Junior Nation are willing to bid him a fond farewell even in the absence of that victory needed for the playoffs.
It seems like Earnhardt is playing the hand dealt him.
Assuming that 17 different drivers don't win a race before the playoffs start -- which would also leave out Earnhardt since he's mired so deeply in the points -- there are three good upcoming opportunities on the schedule. He's won twice at Michigan, once at Bristol and three times at Richmond. Sunday's race on the road circuit at the Glen poses far longer odds as does the throwback night race at Darlington.
Earnhardt could still get a final victory during the playoffs even if he's not in them. The Hendrick team bounced back from the summer doldrums last year to help Johnson win a seventh championship in the fall.
Earnhardt has won at six of the 10 tracks slated for the postseason -- Chicago, Dover, Martinsville, Talladega, Texas and Phoenix. Nothing precludes Earnhardt, Jr. from winning on other tracks, either. But it's all water cooler discussion if the driver and his crew chief don't come up with more speed.
Even Johnson is looking for something to put him back among the race leaders. His last victory came eight races ago in Dover. He has not posted a result in the top five since then.
"It helps knowing that you are locked in (the playoffs), but at the same time I think we are missing a little bit of speed," Johnson said after Pocono. "And then to have luck kind of not go our way the last few weeks. I mean, we want the momentum going the right direction for us. We are getting close to the end of the regular season, so ideally, we would like to get things rolling."
Last year, it appeared the Hendrick team's development plan didn't arrive until the playoffs and a new set of rules enforcement guidelines by NASCAR for rear suspensions. Given that a significant number of playoff bonus points are still up for grabs this year, it does not seem likely that Hendrick is holding back new developments until Round 1 of the postseason in Chicago.
More likely, the timing and circumstances of Earnhardt Jr.'s planned retirement are conspiring against him when it comes to exiting like Gordon, Stewart and Edwards before him -- as a championship contender.