Skip to content

Updated: Even out of gas, Earnhardt extends best season start with runner-up finish at Vegas

Mar 9, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT

AP Photo/Eric Gay AP

With about 20 laps remaining, crew chief Steve Letarte warned race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. that he would be about a half-lap shy of enough fuel to finish Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

And even though his driver did everything he could in the closing laps to conserve fuel, Letarte couldn’t have been more precise.

Earnhardt was heading towards what would have been his second win in the first three races of the 2014 Sprint Cup season when his car began sputtering on the backstretch, coming out of turn two on the final lap.

Keselowski passed Earnhardt and went on to win the race. Junior, however, was able to restart his sputtering motor just enough to make it to the finish line in second place.

“I was lifting real early trying to save even more,” Earnhardt said about his fuel level in the post-race press conference. “We figured we were a lap short, and I was lifting early and let Brad get there.

“I felt like if we were good enough to hold him off, then we’d win the race.  If we weren’t, we would have saved enough fuel to have finished the race, at least get to the end. I can run out of gas on the back stretch and be okay, but if I run out off of 4 coming to the white it would’ve been big trouble, so I had to save a little bit. So I let him catch us and once he got there, I ran as hard as I could and could pull back away from him.”

When asked if he second-guessed the decision to stay out and not pit for a splash of fuel, Earnhardt said it was the right strategy to keep racing.

“You know, it did pay off.  Not the ultimate prize, but we did run second,” he said. “As much as you want to win, and believe me, we were out there trying to win, you do take pride in a good performance, a good finish, and we weren’t going to run in the top 5 if we hadn’t have used that particular strategy. If we’d have run the same strategy as our competitors we would have probably run just inside the top 10 where we were all day.

“At least it felt like I was around eighth all day.  I just couldn’t get any ground, and we fought the car all day. Just the air is so dirty behind everybody, the further back you get you’ve got less and less grip.  Once we got the lead, it was like driving a Cadillac.”

Even though Earnhardt didn’t win, he nonetheless continued his torrid hot streak – the best start of his 15-year Sprint Cup career, with a win in the season opening Daytona 500 and back–to-back runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

And while he also has never won at LVMS, Sunday marked the third time Earnhardt has finished second in 15 career starts there.

“Yeah, this is a good start for sure,” Earnhardt said. “Yeah, the confidence is up there. When we first got together we’d run our guts out to run in the top 15.  Then the next year we’d run our guts out to run in the top 10, and you wondered when you’d get up to fifth and start running in the top 5 regularly.

“We started doing that finally last year, and so our team just keeps stepping up this ladder. It just makes total sense to me how that process has went, having lived it and having seen the progression. So the sky’s the limit for us, and if we are smart and keep our composure and don’t get foolish and don’t get too proud of ourselves, just keep it in perspective, we’ve got a great opportunity this year to be this competitive every week. … You definitely don’t want to take it for granted, get used to it, but this is what we envisioned, and starting to bear some fruit.”

With his win, Keselowski closed the points gap on Earnhardt in the Sprint Cup standings. Junior came into Las Vegas leading by six points; he now leads Keselowski by only one point after the first three races.

“It’s disappointing (to finish second), but at the same time the good Lord has blessed me with a good team and good fortune and great opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “So I don’t want to get too down and think (only) about the positives and be productive so we can go to Bristol (next Sunday) and try to win there.”

Keselowski and Earnhardt are both past winners at the half-mile track at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It sucks to lose like that, but we can’t let it be a negative,” Earnhardt said. “We have to go to Bristol and try to win there. Only way to be productive is to be positive, so we’ve got to look at the positives today and keep working toward our goal of winning some more races.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. No concerns for Mattiacci about Raikkonen and Alonso

    Aug 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Spain F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Rumors about Ferrari’s line-up unfounded; Mattiacci plans to keep both Kimi and Fernando on for 2015.

  2. Vettel and Ricciardo ready for challenge of Monza

    Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    The high-speed circuit plays host to the Italian Grand Prix next weekend.

  3. Kimball: “I had nowhere to go” after Aleshin accident

    Aug 30, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    CharliePostCrash Getty Images

    Charlie Kimball on last night’s accident with Mikhail Aleshin.

  4. After Spa’s missed opportunity, Williams must hit back at Monza

    Aug 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso AP

    The fight with Ferrari is set to rage on until the end of the season.

  5. Lotus finding the silver linings ahead of the F1 run-in

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Monaco - Practice Getty Images

    Deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi is going into the Italian Grand Prix weekend with an open mind.

  6. Maldonado unconcerned by changes to Parabolica at Monza

    Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

    Parabolica Getty Images

    Lotus driver doesn’t think the removal of the gravel track at the corner will change a great deal.

  7. Aleshin conscious following heavy accident in MAVTV 500 final practice (UPDATED, VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT

    AleshinSunIMS Getty Images

    Severe looking three-car accident affects Mikhail Aleshin and two others.

  8. Kevin Harvick wins Atlanta Sprint Cup pole; Stewart qualifies 12th

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Harvick earns his sixth Sprint Cup pole of 2014 with the help of some advice from returning boss and teammate Tony Stewart.

  9. Castroneves secures crucial MAVTV 500 pole; Power starts P21 for IndyCar finale (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Ð Day 1 Getty Images

    Helio Castroneves on pole; Will Power struggles to P21 for Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying.

  10. NASCAR: Chris Buescher, Matt Kenseth lead Nationwide practices at Atlanta

    Aug 29, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT

    Great Clips 300 - Practice Getty Images

    The Nationwide Series rookie and Sprint Cup regular top today’s two practice sessions ahead of tomorrow night’s Great Clips 300 benefiting Feed The Children.

  11. Jeff Gordon: Last 3 races weren’t the same without Tony Stewart

    Aug 29, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT

    (Photo: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. — According to Jeff Gordon, the last three Sprint Cup races just weren’t quite the same without Tony Stewart. Gordon is glad Stewart is back.

  12. NASCAR AMERICA: Drivers discuss Stewart’s return (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick AP

    Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, and Brian Vickers share their thoughts on Tony Stewart getting back behind the wheel in Atlanta.

  13. IndyCar has 500 miles to glory, through speed, dirt, tire fall off and unpredictability

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Getty Images

    The 500-mile shootout may be late Saturday night in Fontana, but still promises a bevy of story lines for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale.

  14. NASCAR AMERICA: Mike Helton explains decision to make Stewart eligible for Chase (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:25 PM EDT

    Pocono 400 - Practice Getty Images

    NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan also reports on the atmosphere around Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

  15. NASCAR AMERICA: Tony Stewart’s “healing process” (VIDEO)

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT

    Tony Stewart AP

    “…[Stewart] being in the race car right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, and what his next step is in coping with this.” – Stewart Haas Racing’s Brett Frood

  16. Vickers: Last 2 races will be “a battle” for drivers not locked in Chase

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Brian Vickers and other winless drivers are facing big-time pressure to get a victory in the final races of the regular season.

  17. PWC: New Porsche GT-Cup class introduced for 2015

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    Photo: Pirelli World Challenge Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

    Porsche GT-Cup class class to enter into Pirelli World Challenge in 2015.

  18. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    Coming up today: More on the return of Tony Stewart at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

  19. Houston axed from 2015 IndyCar calendar; CTMP likely per report

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    Shell Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Getty Images

    Houston gone and momentum grows for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, if a date can be found, for IndyCar.

  20. NASCAR: Tony Stewart 10th in first Cup practice at Atlanta; Edwards fastest

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Following an emotional press conference this morning, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion got back to work.

Video from NASCAR America

Inside Tony Stewart's return to racing
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. Gordon (2230)
  2. K. Harvick (1864)
  3. K. Busch (1786)
  4. J. Logano (1525)
  5. T. Stewart (1376)