A strategy-filled Kobalt Tools 400 came down to the very last lap on Sunday. It was Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. coming up half a lap short as his fuel tank ran empty while he was motoring down the backstretch with victory in his sight. This allowed Brad Keselowski to regain the top spot, which he held for a majority of the second half of race, and score his first victory of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. most notably played the strategy game in the race, but he wasn’t the only one doing so throughout the day. Brad Keselowski had interesting pit strategy towards the beginning of the race that set him apart from the rest of the field early on.
Keselowski’s first lead of the day came briefly on a restart following the first caution, but that was his only taste of the lead until much later in the race. On the Lap 161 restart, the blue deuce was out front once again. Keselowski now was able to hold that position for a much longer portion of the race.
Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick looked like the driver to beat for much of the middle portion of the race, but a brake issue put him in the garage after he made an unscheduled pit stop with 74 laps to go.
The fourth and final caution of the day with 47 laps to go was what brought on the strategic approach to end of the race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards were among the drivers who stayed out and were going to play the fuel mileage game. The move worked best for Earnhardt Jr. as he was able to hold the lead from the restart with 42 laps to go until the final lap.
Around 20 laps to go, Brad Keselowski began charging towards the lead. He was able to catch the No.88 car rather quickly as Earnhardt Jr. was trying to save as much fuel as possible. Keselowski got to the Earnhardt Jr.’s bumper by the ten laps to go mark, but Earnhardt Jr. didn’t surrender the lead that easily.
Earnhardt Jr. was able to briefly pull away from Keselowski again before the No.2 car came back in a hurry. As the white flag waved, Keselowski was right behind the No.88 car, but Earnhardt Jr. held on through Turns 1 and 2.
Earnhardt Jr.’s fuel mileage gamble failed on the backstretch when he ran out of fuel. Keselowski sped by to decide the race. The No.88 car did run on fumes to finish in second place.
This win meant a weekend sweep for Keselowski as he took victory in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race as well.
A spot in the Chase likely awaits Keselowski now as one win should earn him a shot at the title come fall.
A big weekend for Team Penske and Brad Keselowski provides momentum heading into next weekend’s events at Thunder Valley in Bristol, TN.
Results via ESPN.com
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||267||14||51||43||1||0|
|14||Martin Truex Jr.||Chevrolet||267||12||0||30||0||0|
|27||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||264||6||0||17||0||0|