LAS VEGAS – Brad Keselowski surged ahead on the final lap when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel, claiming a dramatic victory Sunday in the NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
When Earnhardt’s Chevy slowed in the final miles, Keselowski roared past in his Penske Ford for the first weekend sweep in his career. He followed up Saturday’s Nationwide Series victory with his first Vegas Cup win.
Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, also virtually assured himself of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship after missing it entirely last season, a thought was already on his mind immediately after the finish.
“Locked in the Chase early,” Keselowski said. “I don’t have to hear all that crap about not being in the Chase.”
Earnhardt was just a few ounces of fuel shy of earning his second victory in three races to start the season. The Daytona 500 champion also finished second last week at Phoenix before improving the best start to a season in his NASCAR career.
“We weren’t supposed to make it,” Earnhardt said. “We were trying to save as much as we can and make it work, but we knew we were short. We wouldn’t have finished second if we didn’t have that strategy.”
Paul Menard finished third in front of Keselowski’s teammate, pole-sitter Joey Logano. Carl Edwards was fifth, and Jimmie Johnson came in sixth.
The Las Vegas race is the first of 11 on 1.5-mile tracks, and NASCAR spent much of the offseason working on ways to improve the racing on these tracks with a new aerodynamics package and other improvements. The changes resulted in 23 drivers breaking the track speed record during qualifying, but the racing wasn’t particularly thrilling until that final lap.
Keselowski and Earnhardt are the only two drivers to finish in the top five in each of the season’s first three races, and they dueled down the stretch after Earnhardt passed him for the lead on a restart with 42 laps to go. Earnhardt had gone to the pits on the 211th lap and attempted to stick it out, while Keselowski had pitted several laps later.
Earnhardt praised NASCAR’s new Chase setup, which allowed him to take a fuel gamble in Vegas after winning already this season. Additional wins are worth bonus points in the Chase, while a second-place finish doesn’t help his position much – hence the motivation to go for broke on an empty tank.
Keselowski was in fine form after his third-place finish in Phoenix last week without crew chief Paul Wolfe, who had returned home for his child’s birth. Keselowski also finished third at Daytona.