With five laps to go in Saturday night's NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway, it looked like it was finally going to happen: NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was finally going to snap his 137-race winless streak after nearly four years and several near-misses.
Running second to leader Kyle Busch, all Earnhardt Jr. had to do was find his way around the No. 18 Toyota, which seemed like a foregone conclusion considering Earnhardt Jr. was clicking off his fastest laps of the evening.
But with his brakes fading, it wasn't to be, as Earnhardt Jr. had to settle for a second-place finish – and yet another near-miss.
"I couldn't get enough front brake in it at the end to run as hard as I wanted to, and we just had hurt the balance a little bit on entry," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. "But really happy to come home with second. We were running about fifth all night and just got lucky on that restart to be on the inside and get a couple spots. We just kind of got lucky there at the end on a couple things to gain a couple extra spots. But we ran good."
The runner-up finish was Earnhardt Jr.'s fifth consecutive finish inside the top 10 and his best finish since finishing second to Matt Kenseth in the season-opening Daytona 500. It also allowed Earnhardt Jr. to move up two spots in the standings to second, just five points behind leader Greg Biffle.
With the continued consistency Earnhardt Jr. has shown this season, it seems to be only a matter of time before he'll win again. And that very well could happen next Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, a track Earnhardt Jr. has won on five times previously and place where he's almost always in contention.
Not that Earnhardt Jr. thinks his early success will carry over to a track where anything can – and usually does happen thanks to the unpredictability that is restrictor-plate racing.
"No, I don't think momentum is a real thing," Earnhardt Jr. said. "The team is confident, we're feeling good. We feel like we're competing well; really close to winning a race. We haven't really raced for a win yet and lost one, so I wouldn't count tonight. But we're getting better at running in the top five and top 10. We'll just try to keep doing that.
"There's too many variables going into races at Talladega whether you feel confident winning or not. There's just too much going on there."