For one run in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was Superman.
His Hendrick Motorsports team had fastened on a set of tires that felt so good, it was like Earnhardt Jr. was driving a perfect setup on iRacing.
He flew from about the middle of the pack up into the top 10, and was suddenly feeling confident about his chances. But as it turned out, it was just the result of one great set of tires.
On the other sets, he struggled with a tight race car and ultimately settled for 14th after a green-white-checkered finish won by teammate Jimmie Johnson.
"We weren't making big changes on the car, and we had this one run where we went from like 15th to seventh, immediately," he said. "You know? Immediately. The car was flawless. (Then) we'd do nothing at all but change tires and it was so shitty tight that I was just holding people up and just doing the best I can to hold my position. I don't understand what that's all about."
Earnhardt Jr. said via the team radio that the various sets of Goodyear tires were inconsistent, and he couldn't figure out why.
"I think being a tire man in this business is probably the hardest job to have, 'cause the driver ain't never satisfied," he said. "I don't know how to fix that, you know? ... We've got to figure it out. If Goodyear wants to come tell us what we're doing wrong, come tell us what we're doing wrong. I'd like to know."
As Earnhardt Jr. explained it, Goodyear gives each race team a certain amount of tires for each race. By looking at the serial numbers and codes on the tires, teams can research each set to find out when they were made.
The newer tires, Earnhardt Jr. said, are faster. So teams try to save those sets for the end, if possible.
"We'll put those on and the car will come to life, drive great, run up toward the front – so we'll save all those for the last few sets, if we get that opportunity to do that," he said. "I don't know what the deal was today. We had one set, man, it was the damn greatest set ever. Everything else we put on the car was real tight, wouldn't turn. We weren't changing that much on the car."
But Earnhardt Jr. said the inconsistent sets of tires "doesn't define our day." He felt the No. 88 was actually better than in June, when Earnhardt Jr. finished second at Kansas with what he said was a worse car.
The multitude of cautions toward the end of the race allowed several drivers to get back on the lead lap (like Carl Edwards), and it ultimately cost Earnhardt Jr. some positions.
Earnhardt Jr. is now ninth in points, but 43 behind Sprint Cup Series leader Carl Edwards. With six races to go, it appears unlikely the No. 88 will challenge for the championship this season.
NASCAR's most popular driver joked he was more worried about his fantasy football team's stats than agonizing over the points situation.
"I just want to win a race," he said. "That's a goal of mine right now, is to just go out there and win. Man, if we could do that, no matter what happened in the Chase I think we'd be real happy with our season.
"We've made some gains and learned as a team that we need to be better and work hard in the offseason and try to present a better account of ourselves next season."