There was a taut battle for the championship and the possibility of a $5 million bonanza being awarded and the matter of bidding Danica Patrick adieu, and all of this mattered for a grand total of 11 laps.
And then none of it mattered at all.
None of it mattered because on lap 11, everybody's worst fears for Sunday's IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were realized.
There was a puff of smoke and a plume of flame and then racecars were flying -- not around the track at speeds of more than 220 mph, but through the air, and that's never good in this form of motor sport, in any form of motor sport.
When the carnage was over, Dan Wheldon, the long-shot winner of the Indianapolis 500 in May, the affable 33-year-old Englishman who came to America to race at Indy and won there twice, was being airlifted to University Medical Center.
And it did not look good.
Within the hour, Wheldon would be pronounced dead.
"This is the horrible accident that everybody hoped would never occur," Eddie Cheever said in a grim voice in the ABC broadcast booth.
Cheever used to drive these cars. He knows a terrible accident when he sees one. He was in one himself, in 1995 at Indy, when a guy named Stan Fox nearly lost his life in a violent career-ending crash. That's why Cheever's tone sounded so grim.
After the gravity of the situation became clear to all, and prayers were said and good thoughts had been thought, a crowd began to form in the media center. And then they began to set up for a news conference.
If you've covered auto racing for any duration of time, if you were there at California Speedway in 1999 when Greg Moore, the talented young Canadian driver, crashed brutally hard and then, even before it was official, they began to test the microphones ...
Well, then you knew this wasn't a good thing, either.
At 2:59 p.m., it was IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard who made this one official.
"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries."
Five tribute laps.
Knot in stomach still there.
It's time like this when one struggles to find perspective, to find the right words, to find any words, really.
It's time like this when people in auto racing fall back on the words of Sid Collins, the old voice of the Indianapolis 500, and his poignant on-air eulogy of the popular driver Eddie Sachs, killed in a fiery wreck at the Brickyard in 1964:
"We are all speeding toward death at the rate of 60 minutes every hour," Collins said. "The only difference is we don't know how to speed faster, and Eddie Sachs did. So since death has a thousand or more doors, Eddie Sachs exits this earth in a racecar.
"Knowing Eddie, I assume that's the way he would have wanted it."
In the days to come, those who knew Dan Wheldon and his wife, Susie, and their two small children -- the other drivers and auto racing people -- likely will say that's the way he would have wanted it, too.
But on Sunday, the other drivers didn't feel like talking much, and who could blame them?
It could have been them.
Dan Wheldon wasn't some neophyte in over his head. Ayrton Senna wasn't some neophyte in over his head. The good ol' boy with the bushy mustache who drove the black Chevy with the big No. 3 on the side wasn't some neophyte in over his head.
If it could happen to Dale Earnhardt, it could happen to Dan Wheldon.
It could happen to a great champion like Dario Franchitti just as easily as it could happen to a rookie such as Pippa Mann, who was crying when they finally pried her out of her car.
"Numb and speechless are all that come up," said the uncrowned series champion Franchitti, his eyes redder than the paint job on his race car, after wife Ashley Judd set a box of Kleenex in front of him in the media center.
Somebody asked Franchitti about clinching his fourth series championship when rival Will Power's car was launched into the Turn 2 fence with Wheldon's and the rest. Somebody just doesn't get it.
Not now, Franchitti said respectfully. Not today.
Maybe that's a story for tomorrow. Maybe there's even a bigger story, about how perhaps the IndyCars are going too fast on these 1.5-mile ovals, or running too close together, or both. Isn't that what the drivers were saying during practice and after qualifying?
Out of respect to Dan Wheldon, those discussions will have to wait. But out of respect to Dan Wheldon, they must occur.
"One minute, you're joking around in the driver intros, and the next minute, Dan is gone ... '' Franchitti said, his voice trailing off, perhaps to that day in 1999 when Greg Moore was killed. They were buddies, too.
In the press room, after Bernard made the announcement and a photograph of Dan Wheldon, and the years of his birth and death, flashed on the television monitor -- and the monitor faded to black -- Will Power appeared on screen, making a pitch for one of his sponsors.
"IndyCar racing is all about speed," Power said. "Action happens in the blink of an eye ..."
How very true.
How very sad.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.