LAS VEGAS – Dale Earnhardt Jr. gambled on fuel Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but it was Brad Keselowski who hit the jackpot.
Earnhardt tried to stretch his fuel during the final run to the checkered flag during Sunday’s Kobalt 400, but ran out of fuel on the backstretch on the last lap. That allowed 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski to surge into the lead and complete a weekend sweep at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Heck of a call (by crew chief Paul Wolfe) throughout the race to get us out front and get us some track position,” said Keselowski. “Clean air on these cars is so important. At the end, this car was just really fast and I’m really proud of it. I’m really proud of the team for giving me a car this fast.”
The run to the finish was set up when the fourth and final caution flag of the day waved with 47 laps left at the 1.5-mile oval. Keselowski was the race leader at the time and led most of the field down pit road for fuel only stops.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt was one of three drivers who opted not to pit. Earnhardt, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin all stayed on track in an effort to try and win the race on fuel strategy.
During the restart Keselowski shot through the field, getting up to third within a lap behind Earnhardt and Edwards. Keselowski, who started second, slowly began to make up ground on both Earnhardt and Edwards. Keselowski took second away from Edwards on lap 244 and set his sights on Earnhardt.
Keselowski closed the gap quickly, getting within half a second of Earnhardt with 10 laps left. Earnhardt was able to stabilize the gap between himself and Keselowski over the next nine laps, but he still had one more lap to complete.
Unfortunately for Earnhardt, his car sputtered coming out of turn two on the white flag lap. That allowed Keselowski to take the lead down the backstretch and pull away to his first Sprint Cup victory of the 2014 season.
“We needed to put pressure on Dale and not let him get into the fuel save mode, because he was really close (on fuel),” said Keselowski, who actually bounced his Ford off the wall coming out of turn four earlier in the race. “Locked into the Chase early. I don’t have to hear that crap all year about not being in the Chase.”
Despite running out of gas, Earnhardt had enough momentum to get him to the finish line in second. Earnhardt has not finished worse than second in the first three Sprint Cup events of the season.
“We weren’t going to run first or second had we not stayed out on that strategy,” Earnhardt said. “We knew we were a lap short and we tried to save as much as we could. We got it to about a half a lap and it ran out off of two there. We took a gamble and didn’t win the race, but it still worked in our favor.
“It gave us a chance to win. It sucks to lose like that, but we can’t let that be a negative. We’ve got to go to Bristol and try to win there. The only way to be productive is to be positive.”
Paul Menard had his best finish of the young season, finishing third. Polesitter Joey Logano finished fourth, followed by Edwards in fifth. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth completed the top 10.
The race was slowed by the caution flag four times, all for debris. Sunday’s race was the fastest Sprint Cup race held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with an average speed of more than 154 mph.