LAS VEGAS - Brad Keselowski passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap and completed a weekend sweep by winning Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The victory made Keselowski the first Ford driver to win NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the same track since Carl Edwards did it in 2010 at Phoenix.
As he did on Saturday, Keselowski led the most laps but the finish was in doubt all the way until the end as he chased down Earnhardt, who was trying to save fuel and make it to the checkered flag. As the two cars came off turn two and hit the back straightaway, Earnhardt ran out of gas and Keselowski passed to win going 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. I think, if anything, it actually lends itself to better racing,” said Keselowski. “The chance that Dale and Stevie took with the 88 car was way out there and it was a good risky move on their part because they had nothing to lose because of this format, so I think that shows some of the opportunities that come up and how they can be stress-free days.”
After he and teammate Joey Logano started on the front row for the second straight week, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe ended up on a different pit sequence than many of the other teams.
“We were on a little different strategy today from time to time with everybody, but the thing that has made the 2 team successful over the last few years is being aggressive and we’re gonna be aggressive this year,” said Wolfe. “That’s what we did today and it paid off in a big win for us.”
The critical juncture came late in the race when Earnhardt and Edwards opted to stay out and try to stretch their fuel to the finish.
“When we pitted there at the end and the 99 and 88 stayed out, we knew we were plenty to the good,” recalled Wolfe. “I didn’t figure there was any way they could make it, but wasn’t sure yet where they were fuel mileage-wise, so as the race started rolling on there that last run we started calculating numbers and trying to figure out where they were at.”
Once they figured out the scenario, Wolfe instructed his driver to try and pass Edwards as quickly as possible and force Earnhardt, who was in conservation mode, to run as hard as he could and use what remaining fuel he had.
“Passing the 99 was a huge moment for us. That gave us an opportunity to really put pressure on Dale,” said Keselowski. “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. 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,” continued Keselowski. “It was gonna play out one of two ways, he was gonna have to get in the fuel-conservation mode, and I think I could have passed him and drove away, or he was gonna have to burn fuel to keep me behind him and at that point it was just a matter of if a yellow came out or not because it’s just at ticking time bomb and it worked in our favor today.”
A good final restart also paid off for Logano, who led 44 of the first 46 laps before getting mired in traffic for much of the afternoon. He was able to pick off a handful of cars and ended up finishing fourth while Edwards managed a fifth-place finish as he nursed his Aflac Fusion to the finish.
The win virtually assures Keselowski of a spot in the season-ending 10-race Chase while he also closed to within one point of Earnhardt in the point standings after three events.
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
3. Paul Menard
4. Joey Logano
5. Carl Edwards
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Ryan Newman
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Jeff Gordon
10. Matt Kenseth
20. Trevor Bayne
22. Greg Biffle
24. Marcos Ambrose
25. Aric Almirola
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
30. David Gilliland
32. David Ragan
Brad Keselowski gave Mustang its first win of the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide season with a dominating performance in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After qualifying second, Keselowski took the No. 22 Discount Tire Mustang to the lead for the first time on lap 7 as he battled door-to-door with pole-sitter Ty Dillon. Keselowski won that battle for good on lap 9 and proceeded to lead 105 of the next 111 laps.
The full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers dominated the race as Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth all contended.
Busch, who had to start from the rear after being forced to a back-up car due to an accident in practice, was the lead car for a restart with 39 laps to go. He opted for the outside lane, but Keselowski got the jump on the inside and bolted to the front for good. Keselowski led the final 38 laps and finished with a race-high 144 circuits in front of the field.
There were only nine cars that finished on the lead lap and two of those were the Roush Fenway Fords of Trevor Bayne and Chris Buescher. Bayne’s eighth-place finish enabled him to close within three points of Regan Smith for the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead while Buescher came home ninth. Ryan Reed finished three laps down in 15th while David Ragan was 17th and Dakoda Armstrong 23rd.