As soon as Valentino Rossi moved into third position on lap two of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix, Casey Stoner's slim chances of retaining his MotoGP title effectively ended - but the Australian was still in with an excellent chance of scoring his first race victory since July's German Grand Prix.
The Ducati star overtook Dani Pedrosa for the lead on lap six, apologising to the Spaniard for the tight move in the process, which Rossi also exploited to advance to second.
Stoner, who fell in three consecutive races whilst battling with - or trying to stay clear of - Rossi, this time held firm in front of the Italian until lap 14 of 24, when a lack of strength in his injured wrist meant he could no longer resist the Fiat Yamaha rider.
"At the beginning of the race everything felt good although I made a couple of mistakes on a cold tyre," recalled stoner. "We were running quite a hard compound today so we needed a few laps to get it warmed up. Once we did that the lap times were good and I felt happy with my pace.
"Unfortunately in the second half of the race I started to get tired in the changes of direction and I was having to close the gap coming out of the corners to get into the next one - simply because I didn't have the strength to flick the bike over with the throttle open. The lap times dropped off and when Valentino came past I couldn't keep up," he admitted.
Stoner took the chequered flag two seconds behind the newly crowned six time MotoGP world champion - and was the first person to congratulate Valentino on his achievement.
"[Rossi] has had an amazing season - he only made one mistake at Assen and the rest of the time he's been on the podium, winning races. He's a worthy champion - eight world titles show that - and I want to congratulate him for that," said Casey.
"I'm just disappointed that we made two mistakes in the mid-point of the season that allowed him to open up such a big advantage. Anyway, after the recent misfortune we've had it was important to come back here with a strong performance and some solid points," he stated. "Now we can go to Australia [this weekend] with confidence and look to finish the season strongly."
Stoner is now eleven points ahead of Pedrosa in the fight for second, with three rounds remaining.
"Casey had a great race today but when Valentino's in the form he was in today there's not much you can do about it," said Ducati MotoGP project director Livio Suppo. "Our congratulations go to him and to Yamaha for a title they truly deserve. The 2008 season has been a difficult one for us but I think we've seen Casey and the whole team demonstrate that they always give everything to the cause and we know now that they can come through the hard times too. We're second in the riders' and constructors' championships with three races to go and we will give our all to hang on to those positions as we look ahead to next season."
Stoner's team-mate Marco Melandri made a strong start from the penultimate row on the grid and was up to eleventh by lap eight, when an attempt to pass Andrea Dovizioso went wrong as he ran straight into the gravel. The Italian returned to the track to take 13th.
"I got a good start today but I ran off track when I was in the middle of fighting with a group of riders and lost all the positions I'd made up," he confirmed. "It's a shame because it is really hard for me to overtake. I lose so much time on the exit of the corners that I'm always a long way back under braking. We recovered some ground but it wasn't enough. We'll see how it goes in Australia, which is one of my all-time favourite tracks and a place Ducati always seem to do well at."