The way he was dominating the race, it wouldn't be surprising if Kyle Busch's name was already being engraved on the Southern 500 trophy Saturday night.
However, after leading 265 of a possible 367 laps, Busch didn't win Saturday at Darlington Raceway. Instead, a commanding lead mysteriously vanished in the closing stages as the No. 18 car seemingly lost its luster.
Led by Matt Kenseth, the ultimate winner of the race, five different drivers would pass Busch before the finish line. Following Busch's Joe Gibb Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick all passed him as well due to a car that just wouldn't handle. Busch finished sixth.
Busch was dumbfounded afterwards, shouting to his crew that he had, "never been this disgusted in my life."
How could a car that was so superior become average that quickly?
Could it have been the slight contact Busch had with Kasey Kahne as the two battled for the lead with 33 laps remaining? Or was it another engine-related issue in a season filled with them for Joe Gibbs Racing?
It wasn't until the race was over and Busch had left the garage without speaking to reporters that the culprit was identified as a cut right-rear tire.
According to crew chief Dave Rogers, the tire had only 12-pounds of air when Busch pulled into the garage.
That Busch was able to finish the race at all seems extraordinary. But on a night where he appeared destined to win his second Southern 500 -- one of NASCAR's most prestigious events -- there was no solace in finishing sixth.
"Man, it's crushing when you lead all day like that and don't come home with a win, especially if it's something that you get a flat tire or something," said Kenseth. "Really disappointing."