Dale Earnhardt Jr. came ever so close to scoring his second win of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Earnhardt lead a total of 51 laps in the race, including 44 of the final 45 before running out of fuel down the backstretch on the final lap at Las Vegas.
He was able to carry his momentum across the finish line to come home second. It was his is third straight top-two finish to open the season after winning the Daytona 500, and posting a runner-up finish last week at Phoenix.
Earnhardt Jr. made history by joining Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson as the only drivers in NASCAR history to open a season with three consecutive top-two finishes.
"It sucks to lose like that, but we can't let that be a negative," said Earnhardt Jr. "We have got to go to Bristol and try to win there."
Earnhardt still retains the point lead by one point over Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski completed the weekend sweep Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas, riding to victory when race leader Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel on the final lap. After winning Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Keselowski followed with his first Sprint Cup Series victory of the season and the 11th of his career.
Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson finished sixth and moved up from fifth to third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, finished eighth and ninth, respectively, placing all Hendrick teams in the top 10. Kahne sits 15th in points while Gordon moves up three spots to fifth.
The victory means Keselowski is a virtual lock to make the Chase For the Sprint Cup under NASCAR's new win-and-you're-in championship format. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16.
"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," said Keselowski.
Earnhardt was one of three drivers who opted not to pit for fuel on the final caution-flag period that began on Lap 222.
"We weren't going to run first or second had we not stayed out on that strategy," said Earnhardt, who has six consecutive top-five finishes dating back to last year. "We knew we were a lap short. We tried to save as much (fuel) as we could. We got it to about half a lap and it ran out off of (turn) two there. We took a gamble and didn't win the race, but it still worked in our favor to run second. It gave us a chance to win.”
The Team Penske Ford Fusions were fast from the get-go. Joey Logano started from the pole, flanked by Keselowski and it was Logano who took the early lead, as Keselowski fell back to fifth in the opening laps of the race.
The 2012 series champion led a race-high 53 laps notching his first Cup Series win in Vegas.
With the recent changes to the championship format and increased focus on winning, NASCAR will further recognize the winning driver with a WINNER decal to display on their car.
All NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winners now will receive the decal, to be placed next to the driver’s name above the door, following a victory. Keselowski was the third recipient of the new decal.
Next up for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers is Bristol on Sunday, March 16 (1 p.m. EST, FOX, SiriusXM Radio Channel 90) —Race 4 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 14-16).
In case you missed the The Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas; here's a list of the top 5 things that you might have missed: