After a rough 2013 season, Brad Keselowski is back in the chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The 2012 Sprint Cup Champion scooped up a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap of the Kobalt Tools 400.
The win was Keselowski’s first of the season and second of the weekend, after he also won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday.
Earnhardt was leading until the second turn of the final lap, when he ran out fuel, giving up the lead to Keselowski. Earnhardt finished the race second, followed by Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.
Keslowski was on a different pit schedule than the competition, giving him plenty of fuel for the remainder of the race. Earnhardt, who pitted earlier than Keslowski, was driving a fuel-saving line and was forced to speed up and waste fuel once Keslowski began to put the pressure on in the final laps of the race.
“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,” said Keslowski. “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.”
NASCAR’s new Chase rules pretty much guarantee a driver a spot in the season’s 10-race playoff if they win a race. This comes as good news for Keslowski, who last year missed the playoffs and fell to 14th position in the standings.
“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,” Keslowski said. “I think, if anything, it actually lends itself to better racing.”
Keslowski will be looking to carry the momentum of the win into the next leg of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, set to be held on March 16.