(WOMR file photo)
It was Brad Keselowski’s lucky weekend! After winning the Nationwide race on Saturday, Keselowski was the recipient of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team rolling the dice and gambling on fuel mileage. Unfortunately, Steve Letarte and Dale Jr. rolled CRAPS Sunday! Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran out of fuel as he exited turn #2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Keselowski caught and passed Dale Jr. as he entered turn #3 to win The Kobalt Tools 400. Despite running out of gas with less than a mile to go, Earnhardt coasted to second place finish!
The Cup victory was the first for Team Penske’s Keselowski at Vegas, but it was his second of the weekend as he won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday. The victory also gave Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, his third top-three finish in as many races this season.
“Yeah, passing the# 99 was a huge moment for us,” Keselowski said. “That gave us an opportunity to really put pressure on Dale. I felt like we could run him down. I could tell he was saving a little bit based on the lines he was running compared to where I had seen him earlier in the day, so he was able to save a little bit but once I ran up on him with him not running his fastest line, he was running his fuel-conserve line – once I saw that, we ran him down in I think 10-15 laps, whatever that was, and forced him to get up into his speed line and that was just taking fuel from his car. Once that happened, I knew we were in really good shape.”
Finishing second gave Dale Earnhardt Jr. his third straight podium, and second straight runner-up finish. Remember that Earnhardt won the 6:22 minute rain and tornado delayed season-opening Daytona 500.
We have got a good thing going, we’ve got to be positive,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. We’ve got to keep trying to win races. I know my fans are disappointed, but we got to stay positive.”
The race hinged on what the leaders did and did not do at the fourth caution of the race on lap 220.
Most of the lead-lap cars pitted. Not pitting were Earnhardt Jr., who took the lead, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin. Paul Menard, who exited the pits first, was fourth and was followed by Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Keselowski, when the race went green with 42 laps to go.
It was at this juncture of the race that Steve Letarte informed Dale Jr. that they would be possibly 3-4 laps short! Letarte strongly emphasized the need to CONSERVE fuel!
In spite of his pending low fuel status, Earnhardt quickly moved out to a multi-second lead.
With five laps to go Letarte informed Earnhardt that they may or may not make it, however his figures showed that they were 1/2 to 3/4 of a lap short on fuel! Letarte also instructed Earnhardt that if he ran out of fuel, stay on the yellow line on the track and coast to the finish line.
At the white flag, Keselowski was three lengths back. But as Jr. exited turn #2 he radioed his crew chief that he was out of gas, Keselowski then passed Earnhardt for the lead as Dale Jr. entered turn #3, and that is how the race ended.
“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. We tried to save as much as we could. We got it to about half a lap and it ran out off of (Turn) 2 there. We took a gamble and didn’t win the race, but it still worked in our favor to run second. It gave us a chance to win. It sucks to lose like that, but we can’t let that be a negative.”
The Kobalt Tools 400 was a very exciting race, even if Junior Nation did not prevail Sunday. At least that is the way that I saw it Sunday from my seat in The Earnhardt Tower!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!