Mar 9, 2014, 6:33 PM EST
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.”
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Jan 25, 2015, 6:27 AM EST
Sunday has dawned at the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:10 AM EST
An early mistake from Ken Roczen shuffled him to the back of the field and resulted in him giving up the points lead.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:55 AM EST
Cooper Webb retained the points lead in the 250 Class but had some pointed words for Tyler Bowers after the race.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
The 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona is now underway.
Jan 24, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
UPDATED: A pair of disqualifications involving two of Abreu’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East teammates elevate the Chili Bowl champion to a 13th place finish.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:06 PM EST
Coon will work on MRN Radio’s live qualifying and race broadcasts in 2015.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:23 PM EST
Since resigning from Ferrari last fall, Montezemolo has taken over as CEO of an Italian airline and joined the board of directors for F1’s controlling shareholder.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Vets-Help hopes to not only host disabled veterans’ races at the track, but also build a residential complex and rehab center for vets and soldiers returning from war.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:37 PM EST
Former team competition director alleges that KBM owes him bonus money and commissions from a pair of sponsorships he says he helped get for the team.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:39 PM EST
The reigning World Champ and aspiring R&B singer aligns with London PR firm that’s home to some of the world’s most popular musicians.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray loves everything about racing sports cars, especially in this week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, except for one thing — the noise.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Against the odds, the key storyline heading into today’s Rolex 24 at Daytona is a P2 convert going up against DP teams for the overall win.
Jan 23, 2015, 8:16 PM EST
At 707 horsepower, the last thing anyone would likely think is that a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat would lose a drag race to … an all-electric Tesla. But it’s true, sadly for Mopar fans.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
The NASCAR team owner talks about his initial reaction to Gordon’s retirement decision, Gordon’s impact on the sport, and what his team’s plans are for after 2015.
Jan 23, 2015, 7:13 PM EST
On Friday, the NASCAR America crew discussed potential candidates to inherit the No. 24 car with 2015 being Jeff Gordon’s final season. One interesting name came up, that of Kyle Larson.
Jan 23, 2015, 6:34 PM EST
Victory Motorcycles will compete for the first time in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class in 2015, with husband and wife team Matt and Angie Smith heading up the effort.
Jan 23, 2015, 6:22 PM EST
Rex White, to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next Friday, wasn’t just a great driver, he’s also a great storyteller. We share some of his best tales with MST readers.
Jan 23, 2015, 5:48 PM EST
Gordon has left the door open to competing in other series when his full-time Sprint Cup career ends this fall.
Jan 23, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
The four-time Sprint Cup champion isn’t the only NASCAR driver that’s gotten rich in the last two decades or so.
WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA, 5 p.m. ET – More on Jeff Gordon’s decision; interviews with Hendrick, Hornish
Jan 23, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Also coming up today: Breaking down offseason moves from Petty, Stewart-Haas teams; looking back on an ‘Awesome’ 1985 Daytona 500; the Top-5 moments from the 2014 Chase.
Video from NASCAR America
- Rex White, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver — and storyteller 1
- Is a NASCAR TV analyst career in Jeff Gordon’s future? ‘I’d entertain it’ 2
- After wedding and winter to reflect, Joey Logano looks for more in 2015 2
- Jeff Gordon’s legacy of success transcends generations 1
- Jeff Gordon announces 2015 as final full-time season 43
- NASCAR: Trackside shopping set to change as part of new Fanatics deal (UPDATED) 10
- Brian Vickers to return to racing at Las Vegas after health scare 9