The flag was in the flagman's hand waiting to signal to Joey Logano that he had just one more circuit to complete before he could make the trip to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.
Yet instead of the white flag waving, a different color flag fluttered in the Texas breeze: Yellow. Debris from an incident involving Kurt Busch compelled NASCAR at the last minute to display a caution, one that erased Logano's substantial lead.
"My heart dropped," Logano said. "I got really angry instantly."
Once the anger subsided Logano refocused.
Armed with four fresh tires after a pit stop Logano restarted third on the subsequent green-white-checkered finish, holding the advantage over the two drivers ahead of him, Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers, each of whom took just two tires.
It took a full lap before Logano wrestled the lead away from Gordon; it was a lead he would not relinquish.
Monday's win was the fourth Sprint Cup victory of his career and continues a transformation Logano has undergone since joining Team Penske at the beginning of the 2013 season. Prior to his arrival at Penske, Logano was viewed as an underachiever after four mostly underwhelming seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.
But a switch of teams did wonders for Logano, who admits now that when JGR tabbed him as a much-hyped, inexperienced 18-year-old to replace Tony Stewart it was a role he wasn't prepared for. Success was fleeting and as the frustration mounted, Logano's confidence sagged.
It was a cycle that would only be broken by finding a new team and stepping out of the immense shadow of the driver whose seat he inadequately filled.
"I think Joey learned a lot over the years at JGR and never felt quite comfortable there for whatever reason," said former teammate Kyle Busch.
As hard as it may be to fathom, Logano at age 23 is actually a veteran in his sixth full season. More importantly, he's found a home at Penske. The organization has made Logano comfortable, which has restored his confidence and in turn, there has been a distinct improvement in his performance.
"I used to race a lot more confident and aggressive in the Nationwide car than I did in the Cup car," Logano said. Now it's the same. I'm here to win. I feel like the competitors see that now. We run up front enough, they don't look at you as a guy that's going to run up there once in every 10 races. It's every week now."
Along with a victory at Michigan, Logano earned his first berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup a year ago. This season he has four top-fives through seven races, is fourth in points and a return trip to the playoffs is all but assured by way of his win Monday.
"When I was able to go to Team Penske, get that fresh start, be able to take everything you've learned there, but you're not taken as an 18-year-old kid anymore," Logano said. "I came over when I was 22. You're looked at a little bit more as a man than an 18-year-old kid that was still in high school.
"Completely different situation now. I've been able to take advantage of that ... walk in the doors of Penske the first time and say, ‘Here is who I want to be, here is what I want to do, here is how I feel like we can win races.'"
A man in every sense, Logano has delivered what he said he would if Penske provided the tools needed. And the driver once considered a flop by many has evolved into a potential championship contender for all to see.