Dale Earnhardt isn't noted for his road-racing ability, but there he was in the closing laps at Watkins Glen running in the top 10. He was certainly in prime position to secure his spot atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for the third straight week.
But seven laps from the finish, his good day went awry. Coming off Turn 5, Earnhardt Jr. looped his No. 88 Chevrolet and there he went, plummeting down the leaderboard. And with it, his points lead disappeared, entirely.
"I just got in the corner and made a mistake and that was pretty much all there was to it," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I was just overdriving the car."
After his 28th-place result, Earnhardt Jr. finds himself fourth overall in the standings, 17 points behind teammate and new points leader Jimmie Johnson. And in a testament to just how consistent he has been in 2012, Sunday's result marked the first time this season Earnhardt Jr. has finished outside the top 10 in consecutive weeks.
"I thought we were having a great day and working really hard," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We made some adjustments to help the car, and made the same adjustments again that last run. It was a little bit too much, but the car was still really good. I was behind a couple guys I thought I shouldn't have been behind, and I just got in over my head."
However, if there is a silver lining in all this, it's that the Cup circuit heads off to Michigan next weekend. That just happens to be the site of Earnhardt Jr.'s lone victory this season and where, in dominant fashion, he snapped his four-year winless drought.
But for now anyway, Earnhardt Jr. wasn't thinking about that. He was still reflecting on a day that he let get away from him.
"I don't think it could be much worse," he said. "I'm pretty disappointed and upset. I made a mistake. Not much I can do. Can't go back and fix it."