LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brad Keselowski surged ahead on the final lap when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel, claiming a dramatic victory in Sunday's NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt's Chevrolet 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 up Saturday's Nationwide Series victory with his first Las Vegas Cup win, doing it in exhilarating fashion against the friend and mentor who gave him his first big break in racing.
"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. It was one of those races there at the end."
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 Earnhardt would be forced to abandon his conservative, fuel-saving lines.
Earnhardt and his Hendrick Motorsports ride were just a few ounces of fuel shy of earning their second victory in three races to start the season, having won at Daytona.
"We were trying to save as much as we can and make it work, but we knew we were short," Earnhardt said. "We wouldn't have finished second if we didn't have that strategy."
Paul Menard finished third in his Richard Childress Racing Chevy in front of Keselowski's teammate, pole-sitter Joey Logano. Edwards was fifth in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, and Earnhardt teammate Jimmie Johnson came in sixth
Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, virtually assured himself of a spot in the Chase for the Championship — with its 2014 emphasis on wins rather than points — after missing it entirely last season.
"It's just such a reliever for everyone on the team 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," Keselowski said. "It actually lends itself to better racing."
Earnhardt also praised NASCAR's new Chase setup, which allowed him to take a fuel gamble in Vegas after winning already this season. Additional wins are worth bonus points in the Chase, while a second-place finish doesn't help his position much — hence the motivation to go for broke on an empty tank.
"The new format is definitely is showing it has tons of positives," Earnhardt said. "It's better as far as entertainment for our sport. It gives us freedom, and it's nice to have that freedom to do the things that we did today, even though we knew our odds weren't good. We really shouldn't have made it, and we didn't, but we got to try because of the new system."