Martinsville Speedway was supposed to be a track where Dale Earnhardt Jr. would contend for his first victory of the year. And at the very least, continue his streak of finishing in the top 10 in every race this season.
Instead, Earnhardt had a race that he's going to want to forget as quickly as possible. His 24th-place finish represented his worst result of the year, ended his run of top 10 finishes at five and cost him the championship lead.
"We've got to capitalize at the tracks where we run good and this is one of them," Earnhardt told The Sporting News. "So I'm pretty disappointed that we ran like we did. We just have to try better when we come back (in October).
In a way it was almost as if the STP Gas Boost 500 was a tale of two races for Earnhardt.
Starting 17th, Earnhardt with little effort moved his way into the top 10 and was as high as sixth at one point. From there it seemed only a matter of time before he established himself as a contender for the win.
But on Lap 180, Earnhardt's day quickly turned sour.
With the leaders just ahead of him suddenly slowing up, Earnhardt was plowed into by Brian Vickers and the No. 88 car sustained significant damage to the left-rear. The damage appeared to be mostly cosmetic and on a track where aerodynamics isn't important, shouldn't have been a crippling blow for the team.
And that appeared to be the case as Earnhardt rallied and was back in the top 10 by the halfway point.
However, it was short lived as the No. 88 car developed a handling problem which sent Earnhardt plummeting down the running order.
His troubles were compounded when contact with Danica Patrick and Brian Vickers sent Earnhardt into a spin and he lost a lap to the leaders.
When it was all said and done and the checkered flag waved, Earnhardt was 24th in the final rundown and had fallen from first in the standings to third, 12 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
"It's a long year," Earnhardt said. "Things are going to happen. It doesn't mean you have to like it."