On the bright side, Jeff Burton is returning to Texas Motor Speedway, site of his last Nextel Cup Series win. Burton, though, is as big a realist as you'll find in a sport where drivers often like to say they were running great until something beyond their control ruined what undoubtedly was going to be a strong run.
And many have been known to say that when they've broken a part while running 30th.
Just don't ever expect Burton to play that game. Heading into Sunday's Dickies 500 (3 p.m. ET, ABC), Burton is eighth in the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings. Sitting 400 points behind leader Jeff Gordon, Burton's not winning his first title this season.
Some would chalk that up to circumstances, but Burton looks at it more realistically. Where some would see bad luck, he sees instances where his Richard Childress Racing team could have executed better.
"I think that we broke an engine at Talladega, that wasn't luck. We did something wrong," Burton said. "We broke a fuel pump, part of the fuel pump cable system the week before that. And I don't consider that luck, either. I consider that something that was in our control.
"And then we haven't run as well. That's in our control, too. [At Atlanta] -- and people always forget the good things that happen. People forget the things -- Sunday, rather, we finished fifth, and if that thing would have gone two more laps who knows where we would have finished. We had tire rub so bad that I don't know how -- we wouldn't have finished fifth, I can assure you of that. So that worked out for us."
Add it all up and Burton will be hoping to win on Sunday and gain as many spots in the standings as possible. Still, it'll take a bit of a turnaround for that to happen.
"At the end of the day, the thing we're not happy about is the way we've run," Burton said. "It hasn't been in the Chase -- it was before the Chase. We hadn't run as well as we did the first part of the year. Seemed like when [momentum] got away from us we were never able to get it back. So we're still fighting and we're going to go get all we can get."
Burton became the first two-time winner in the speedway's history back in April. He'd won the inaugural event there in 1997 and the track had seen a different winner in each of the next 11 races.
Tony Stewart won this race a year ago and, like Burton, his championship hopes are all but a memory with just three races remaining. He led eight times for 278 of 339 laps last November, and a dominating effort this season -- or at least a win -- would make up for some of the frustrations that have come with the realization a third Cup crown will have to wait.
"As far as the championship is concerned, it's out of our control. So, we're back to the mode we were in last year and that's just trying to win races," Stewart said. "We can't do anything about the points now. It's strictly a matter of us going out and doing the best we can each week.
"The only way we're going to get back in it is going to be dictated by what happens to the guys in front of us. If they don't have any trouble, it doesn't matter whether we lead the most laps and win all the races, we're not going to catch them."
While Burton hopes his team starts running better again, Stewart will be looking to grab some of the magic his Greg Zipadelli-led team had here last November.
"It was obviously an awesome day. Any time you can lead that many laps and that percentage of laps in a race, it's a good day for you," Stewart said. "We had a car that was good all day long from start to finish. In my 28 years of racing it's rare that I've had a car that good.
"We could get a straightaway lead at any time. I was loose the whole day, but we were extremely fast being loose. We kept trying to get greedy because we knew at some point guys would get their cars better and I wanted to see if I could get it tightened up enough to where I could even go faster. We finally got it too tight and I had them undo a tire pressure adjustment when we came in for a two-tire stop. After that, it was right back to being really fast and we had a straightaway lead with less than 10 laps to go. We had the strongest car all day and we finished it off."
Burton was able to finish the deal at TMS in the spring after battling with former teammate Matt Kenseth down the stretch.
"Things went our way for that race. We needed a long green-flag run and that's what we got," Burton said. "We were good when we needed to be good. Racing Kenseth for the lead is something I will never forget. I have a lot of respect for Matt and his whole team. He's a great racer, a smart racer and a clean racer.
"Drivers dream about winning a race on the last lap, and that was cool -- not only for me, but for the whole team as well. That's what drivers do -- we strive to win races -- and we were able to do that there."
That performance has been missing of late, but Burton hopes to get it back this weekend.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.