It genuinely couldn't have been any closer: after 36 races over a nine month season, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart ended up exactly level on points, and the championship came down to a tie-breaker. But then that tie-breaker was the number of wins during the season, and Stewart's extraordinary run of five victories out of ten Chase races settled it in the #14's favour.
That left NASCAR's Mr Nice Guy Carl Edwards on the outside of victory lane looking in, and struggling to cope with the disappointment and surge of feelings at how things had turned out.
"I just have to say congratulations to Tony. Those guys earned it. They won half the races in the Chase and he is the champion," he said with typical grace. "I just hope everybody is proud of the way we performed and our effort. I appreciate everyone's support. I wish so bad we had that trophy, it just wasn't meant to be tonight."
Edwards had tried cutting the gap to Stewart in the final moments of the race only to hit traffic, after which he had seemed to back off. Had he given up at that point? "No, I don't ever quit. I was waiting for his car to run out of fuel coming to the finish line," he insisted. "Never, ever give up, period.
"I was fully prepared for Tony to run out of fuel or have a tyre problem or for anything to happen. For a caution to come out and have a restart and that is all I can do. That is my job, to be as prepared as I can be. I didn't really let myself think about the consequence of what was going on, I just had to drive the hardest I could.
"The only good thing about tonight is that we didn't make any mistakes, we didn't mess up and we didn't beat ourselves. We made Tony and those guys come out and beat us and they did," he said. "We aren't going to walk away here feeling like we didn't give our best performance ... This moment is pretty tough but not nearly as tough as it could have been if we had a mistake or a problem. We just got out-raced tonight. They did their jobs and came back from adversity and did a good job."
Edwards insisted that he wasn't going to let this nearest of misses affect his 2012 season, and that he would take strength from what the #99 team had achieved rather than dwell on what they had missed out on.
"I told myself and my family that the one thing I am going to do is walk back to that motor home win, lose or draw and be a good example for my kids and work hard and go be better next season," he said. "I talked to you guys one time and I said Kipling's poem, I can't remember the title of it, but when he says 'you have to meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,' and that's the truth.
"There's nothing saying that this loss here tonight won't spur a chain of events that could lead to some serious success in the future and you guys are looking at someone who is not gonna miss out on that," he insisted.
"I learned a ton, a lot about myself and competition at this level and I will be ready to battle it out just like this every year if I get the opportunity," he said, adding that he'd already told Stewart that it would be fun if 2012 could boil down to a rematch between them - although obviously, Edwards has a different outcome in mind if that situation should come to pass.
"As painful as this is right now I know we are fortunate to go to Daytona and start all over again and go race," he summed up - before walking away from the celebrations that were so nearly his, and leaving the Stewart-Haas team to party late into the Florida night.