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Keselowski Uses Late Pass To Win In Las Vegas

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 9 2014

Brad Keselowski blew past the fuel-depleted Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap and went on to win his first race of the year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)


Brad Keselowski passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who ran out of fuel – out of the final turn to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt coasted to a second-place finish.

“We took a gamble,” Earnhardt said of his fuel strategy. “But tough losing like that.”

Paul Menard finished third and Joey Logano was fourth.

Carl Edwards finished fifth and Jimmie Johnson sixth.

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 Earnhardt Jr. his third straight podium and second straight runner-up finish. Earnhardt won the season-opening Daytona 500.

“We have got a good thing going, we’ve got to be positive,” he said. W”e’ve got to keep trying to win races. I know my fans are disappointed, but we got to stay positive.”

Keselowski took the lead on lap 160 of the 267-lap race when he opted to stay on the track during a caution. As leaders did all day long, Keselowski quickly moved out to a multi-second lead after the restart.

On lap 190, Kevin Harvick, the winner last weekend in Phoenix and who led at Vegas several times for 23 laps, fell off the pace and then headed to the pits. His crew hopped the wall and began looking at the left front of his car. Shortly after that, Harvick headed to the garages with a frozen wheel hub.

“Just a little parts failure there and just we’ll figure out the cause of it and try to just keep that from happening,” Harvick said. “Every week is a new notebook for us. I really think, as we get established and get some foundation for our set-ups and just the little things this, team is going to be dangerous.”

On lap 196, Keselowski pitted under green and out of cycle.

Taking over the lead was Johnson – but only briefly. A lap later, Menard moved past Johnson and into the lead.

Six laps later, Menard pitted as green flag stops began. When pitting cycled through, Keselowski was back in the lead but still out of sequence. Menard was second and Johnson third.

On lap 220 – 47 to go – the fourth caution of the day was signaled.

Most of the lead-lap cars pitted. Not pitting were Earnhardt Jr., who took the lead, Edwards and Denny Hamlin. Menard, who exited the pits first, was fourth and was followed by Busch, Johnson and Keselowski when the race went green with 42 laps to go.

Earnhardt quickly moved out to a multi-second lead.

With just over 25 laps to go, Keselowski moved past Edwards and into second place. From there, he began to cut into Earnhardt’s lead.

With 15 laps to go, Earnhardt’s lead was down to .75 seconds on Keselowski.

With 10 laps to go, Keselowski had moved to within a couple of car lengths of Earnhardt, who was told by crew chief Steve Letarte over his radio that fuel mileage was a bit of a problem.

With five to go, the leaders ran into lapped traffic.

With four to go, Keselowski pulled even but was unable to hold position.

At the white flag, Keselowski was three lengths back. But shortly after, Earnhardt ran out of fuel, was passed by Keselowski and that is how it 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.”

(This story will be updated shortly)

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 9 2014
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