Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew this was his day. With five laps to go, Earnhardt Jr. was leading the Martinsville race and appeared to be finally ready to snap his 98-race winless streak.
He could see the fans going crazy in the stands. He could sense that his long drought in the Sprint Cup Series was finally over.
But though Earnhardt Jr. said he thought "I was meant to win that damn race," it actually wasn't meant to be after all. Kevin Harvick kept coming and coming, and eventually passed for the lead – and the win.
Earnhardt Jr. got loose and slipped a bit as Harvick approached, and the Richard Childress Racing driver got underneath him. Earnhardt Jr. tried one last crossover move, but it wasn't enough.
The Junior Nation fans at Martinsville who had previously sensed victory were suddenly left disappointed.
They weren't the only ones. Earnhardt Jr. left a bit disappointed, too, though he said his honest emotion was that he was "fortunate" to finish second in a car that "should have finished 10th."
"I'm really thrilled," Earnhardt Jr. in his typically mellow fashion. "I know it don't look like it. But I've got such a hell of an opportunity. This is such a great group to be around, and I'm having fun it. I'm racing cars. It's all I've ever wanted to do.
"I want to run like this. I want to finish like this and run a little bit better than this on every weekend, and we are right on the outside of that – and it's frustrating to be that close. It was frustrating to be leading the race with inside 10 laps to go and be passed."
But Earnhardt Jr. added there was "definitely a brighter side" to the day, and pledged he "won't forget to notice that."
As the laps wound down, it became clear Earnhardt Jr. was willing to do whatever it took to win the race. He gave a bump to then-leader Kyle Busch and moved his occasional rival up the track with 21 laps to go ("I was holding him up," Busch said later). He later tried to prevent Harvick from getting by, but to no avail.
"I was just doing the best could I do with the car and trying to make the best out of the situation," he said. "We had an opportunity to win the race. I'm disappointed that I didn't get the job done and it will probably bother me more and more as the night goes on. I'll probably think about it a million times what I probably could have done differently."
Earnhardt Jr. moved up four spots to eighth in the Sprint Cup Series standings (his highest points position since last April's Texas race), but said his recent run of solid finishes doesn't mean he's "back" just yet.
"I ain't really proved it to myself yet," he said. "I'll let you know when I feel like I'm back, personally. Anyone that watched that race today knows that we weren't a second‑place race car or even a third‑place race car all day. We never were up there to prove that point. So there's no argument: We got some work to do still.
"We are faster, we are more competitive than last year. But we still got a little ways to go."