Brad Keselowski Wins In Vegas After Dale Earnhardt Jr. Rolls The Dice

by March 9, 2014

Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images

Las Vegas, NV – Brad Keselowski earned Ford Racing their first win of the 2014 season after fuel strategy payed off in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The day was full of ups and downs for Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite team. After starting second, the team found their selves mired outside the top-10 at times, but a debris caution on lap 222 set a couple of driver up for a go big or go home scenario as they stayed on track and decided to roll the dice on fuel strategy. Of those drivers who stayed out were Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Daytona 500 winner and last week’s runner-up, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“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.”

In the final 15 laps, Keselowski made tremendous ground on race leader, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Still in fuel conservation mode, Earnhardt Jr. could only save so much in order to stay in front of the hard charging white deuce of Keseloswki. As the laps dissipated, Steve Letarte came over the radio and told Earnhardt Jr. that he was 3/4th of a lap short on fuel.

“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, and once I saw that, we ran him down, I think 10, 15 laps, whatever that was, and forced him to kind of get up into his speed line, and that was just taking fuel from his car,” Keselowski said. “Once that happened, I knew we were in really good shape.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed committed to the high line while Keselowski was on the bottom. As the two took the white flag and exited turn two, Earnhardt Jr.’s car sputtered, and that’s all it took for Keselowski to make the move for the win. Unfortunately for Earnhardt Jr., his crew chief was correct in his calculations and the team finished runner-up for the second weekend in a row.

“It was going to play out one of two ways:  He was going to have to get in fuel conservation mode and I think I could have passed him and drove away or he was going to have to burn fuel to keep me behind him,” Keselowski said. “At that point it was just a matter of whether a yellow came out or not because it was just a ticking time bomb, and it worked in our favor today.”

Today’s victory marks Ford’s eighth at Las Vegas Speedway and the first time since 2010 a Ford driver has swept both series events on the same weekend. The last driver to do so was Carl Edwards at Phoenix International Raceway. The win also came on the same day as Ford Motor Company patriarch, William Clay Ford passed away.

“It’s very special to get a win early in the year when it’s just such a reliever for everyone on the team and myself included to get that win in early and be able to enjoy the races and opportunities that we have, instead of being stressed out about them,” Brad Keselowski said. “I think, if anything, it actually lends itself to better racing.”

The race saw 10 different leaders with six of them leading more than 20 laps. Keselowski led the most with 53, followed by Kyle Busch with 52 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 51. All four cautions were either for fluid on the track or for debris.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads Brad Keselowski in the points standings by only one point. Jimmie Johnson (-16) moves up two spots to third, followed by Joey Logano (-17) who also moved up two spots and Jeff Gordon (-18) who fell back two. After left front  hub issues while running second, last week’s winner, Kevin Harvick dropped 10 spots to 14th in the standings this week after a disappointing 41st place finish.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway this upcoming weekend for the Food City 500, and the race will be aired live on FOX at 1 p.m. on Sunday. You can also catch the race on the Performance Racing Network. The Fourth Turn will be at the speedway for live updates as well.