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Vegas Gamble Gives Junior Second-Place Finish

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 3/9/2014

Race: Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile tri-oval
Weather: Sunny, 73 degrees
Race Winner: Brad Keselowski
Dale Jr.’s finish: 2nd

When in Las Vegas, it’s natural to gamble. For Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte, that’s exactly what they did in the Kobalt 400, attempting to stretch their fuel mileage for a second victory in three races this season. With victory only half a lap away, Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Mountain Dew Kickstart Chevrolet sputtered out of fuel allowing Brad Keselowski to drive by and steal the victory. Earnhardt Jr. was forced to settle for a runner-up finish for the second-consecutive week.

Earnhardt Jr. spent much of the day racing inside the top 10, leading several times through cycles of green-flag pit stops. Not until the team’s final pit stop under green at lap 211 was the No. 88 team a serious threat for the win. Several laps after Earnhardt Jr. visited pit lane, a caution for debris at lap 220 brought many leaders to pit road for their final stop of the race. Knowing their Daytona 500 victory secured their spot in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup providing them an opportunity to take a risk, Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte chose to not return to pit road, catapulting the No. 88 Chevrolet to the lead.

On the ensuing restart, Earnhardt Jr. drove to a two-second lead over Carl Edwards and Keselowski. Keselowski eventually bypassed Edwards No. 99 to move into second and begin his pursuit of Earnhardt Jr. Keselowski closed to within a half-second in the final 10 laps, making an attempt to pass Earnhardt Jr. in turns one and two with four laps remaining, but could not complete the pass. Seeing where Keselowski gained ground, Earnhardt Jr. began occupying the high line in turns one and two to fend off the No. 2 with success.

Earnhardt Jr. took the white flag as the leader before his Chevrolet ran out of fuel on the backstretch of the final lap. Keselowski, only a few car lengths behind, was able to drive around the slowing No. 88 and take the checkered flag for his first victory of the season.

The third consecutive top-two finish marks the best start to a season of Earnhardt Jr.’s Sprint Cup career. Dating back to 2013, Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team have posted sixth-consecutive top-five finishes.

“We weren’t going to run first or second had we not stayed out on that strategy. We knew we were a lap short. We tried to save as much as we could. We got it to about half a lap and ran out off of (turn) two there. We took a gamble and didn’t win the race, but still worked in our favor to run second and gave us a chance to win. It sucks to lose like that, but we can’t let that be a negative. We’ve got to go to Bristol and try to win there, and the only way to be productive is to be positive. We can look at the positives in today and work towards our goal of winning some more races.”

Las Vegas Race Report
Start 14th
Finish 2nd
Laps Completed (Led) 267 of 267 (51)
Standings (from next) 1st (+1)
Condition Running
After Ford EcoBoost 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +3 Kevin Harvick 5043 0
2 +1 Ryan Newman 5042 -1
3 -2 Denny Hamlin 5037 -6
4 -2 Joey Logano 5028 -15
5 -- Brad Keselowski 2361 -2682
6 -- Jeff Gordon 2348 -2695
7 -- Matt Kenseth 2334 -2709
8 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2301 -2742
9 -- Carl Edwards 2288 -2755
10 -2 Kyle Busch 2285 -2758
11 +2 Jimmie Johnson 2274 -2769
12 +2 Kurt Busch 2263 -2780
Full Standings