LAS VEGAS – Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew he probably didn’t have enough fuel to finish. Being in Las Vegas, he decided to gamble anyway.
And when Earnhardt’s tank went bust on the final lap, Brad Keselowski was right there to clean up.
Keselowski surged ahead when Earnhardt ran out of fuel, claiming a dramatic victory Sunday in the Kobalt 400, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt’s Chevy sputtered and slowed out of the second turn, and Keselowski roared past him on the backstretch in his Penske Ford for the first weekend sweep in his career. Keselowski followed Saturday’s Nationwide Series success with his first Cup victory in Nevada, doing it in exhilarating fashion against the friend and mentor who gave him his first big break in racing.
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“That’s what you live for as a driver, at least I do,” Keselowski said. “Those moments where you’re side by side, and you lay it all out on the racetrack and bring back the car with the tires smoking, engine smoking and you’re worn out inside because you gave it all you had.”
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw was eighth and Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., was 22nd of 43.
Keselowski knew all about the fuel shortage faced by Earnhardt and Carl Edwards, who both made their final pit stops about 10 laps before him. So Keselowski decided to force the issue, getting around Edwards and pushing for the lead so Daytona 500 winner Earnhardt would be forced to abandon his conservative, fuel-saving lines.
“He was going to have to burn fuel to keep me behind him,” Keselowski said about the man who put him in his first Nationwide ride.
Runner-up Earnhardt came close to his second victory in three races to start the Sprint Cup season.
When he sat down for his postrace news conference in front of two cans of his sponsor’s energy drink, Earnhardt picked up one can and said wistfully: “That’s all we needed, just 16 ounces.”