Fans at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway were treated to a great finish Sunday, but also got a chance to see what could be in store for them them this season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to be on pace for his second win in three races–easily the best start of his career–but only if one thing could hold out, his gas tank. He knew there was a solid chance that he might run out of gas before the end of the race Sunday and sure enough he did just that.
“We weren’t supposed to make it,” Earnhardt said. “We were trying to save as much as we can and make it work, but we knew we were short. We wouldn’t have finished second if we didn’t have that strategy.”
He’s still off to an incredible start to the season with a win in Daytona and now two second place finishes in a row, but his misfortune opened the door for 2012 Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski to slide in for the win.
It wasn’t just Earnhardt’s misfortune that won the race for him. Keselowski led the race for 53 laps; more than any other driver. Down the stretch it was a battle between the two–one that he won thanks to Earnhardt’s gamble
“It was a good, risky move on their part, because they had nothing to lose because of this format,” Keselowski said.
Under the new Chase rules drivers are rewarded for winning which pushes them to go for the win a little more. It also encourages guys that already have to push the limits a little more like Earnhardt did. After winning at Daytona to start the season his spot in the Chase is a virtual lock.
Under the old rules it would have been smart to pit, gas up, and finish in the top ten, but under the new ones a win would mean bonus points since he’s already won a race while a second place finish would not mean as much as before. So he gambled, made the race a lot better for fans, and still came in second.[H/T SI and IndyStar]