Brad Keselowski earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the 2014 season after Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel on the final lap at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt gambled by opting not to pit his Hendrick Chevrolet during the final caution period, staying out with 45 laps to go to take the lead.
Keselowski, who had led when the yellow flags were brought out for debris and headed the train of cars into the pits in his Penske Ford, emerged outside the top six but flew into second almost immediately after the restart. He briefly lost out to Carl Edwards but regained the place shortly afterwards and then set about eating into Earnhardt’s 2.8-second lead.
With just over 10 laps to go the 2012 champion was on the tail of the Daytona 500 winner and piled on the pressure. Earnhardt led onto the final lap but, after been urged to forget about saving fuel by his crew chief, moved aside on the back straight as his Chevrolet began to splutter, allowing Keselowski through to win.
“It’s such a (relief) for myself and everyone on the team to get that win in early and being able to enjoy the racing opportunities that we have, rather than being stressed out about it,” Keselowski said. “The chance that Dale and Stevie [Letarte] took with the 88 car was way out there.
“It was a good, risky move on their part, because they had nothing to lose because of this (new Chase) format. I think that shows some of the opportunities that come (from having) stress-free days, and I’m looking forward to being able to take those same opportunities, because I’m not scared to take ‘em, and I know (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) is not, so look out.”
For his part, Earnhardt felt he had done all he could.
“I ran two real hard laps right after that restart (on lap 226), and we got about a 20-car-length lead, and I started lifting real early into both corners and seeing whether they were going to catch me,” Earnhardt said. “So I was being pretty cautious and lifting pretty early, and when I saw Brad pass the 99 (Edwards), I knew Brad in clean air would be quicker than us, potentially – he had been all day – and I just continued to save fuel and hope that once he got behind me and got into dirty air I could keep him there.
“I continued to save until he got within about eight car lengths, and then I started running hard, and we were fast enough to keep him behind us. As soon as I got to the top of Turns 1 and 2 the last several laps, I was real comfortable that he wasn’t going to get to me, felt fine about, if we had enough gas, we weren’t going to have a problem, but we didn’t have enough gas.”
He managed to hold onto second just ahead of Paul Menard, who started 21st but staged a late charge to come through from the fringes of the top 10.
Poleman Joey Logano led the first 44 laps but then spent the majority of the race outside the top 10 as he struggled with his Ford’s handling in traffic. He vaulted up the order during the final two pitstops to salvage fourth. Carl Edwards and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson completed the top six.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were a large part of the lead battle for most of the race. Busch tumbled down the field after the final stop, eventually finishing 11th despite leading the joint-most laps of anyone (52), while Harvick retired with brake issues having led until around two-thirds distance.
Results - 267 laps:Pos Driver Team/Car 1. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 3. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 4. Joey Logano Penske Ford 5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 6. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 7. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet 8. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 9. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 10. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota 11. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota 12. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota 13. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota 14. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Chevrolet 15. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet 16. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet 17. Jeff Burton Waltrip Toyota 18. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet 19. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet 20. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford 21. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 22. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford 23. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 24. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 25. Aric Almirola Petty Ford 26. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 28. Casey Mears Germain Chevrolet 29. Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet 30. David Gilliland Front Row Ford 31. Justin Allgaier Hscott Chevrolet 32. David Ragan Front Row Ford 33. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 34. Reed Sorenson Baldwin Chevrolet 35. Ryan Truex BK Toyota 36. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota 37. Alex Bowman Swan Toyota 38. Timmy Hill FAS Lane Ford 39. Travis Kvapil Go FAS Ford 40. Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota Retirements: Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet Josh Wise Parsons Chevrolet Michael McDowell Leavine Ford