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UPS Game-Changing Moments: Las Vegas

March 09, 2014, Staff report,

Moments that changed the course of the third race of the season


Unfortunately for Dale Earnhardt Jr., crew chief Steve Letarte's words proved prophetic.

"If it runs out, stay on the track and coast to the finish," Letarte told his driver as he took the white flag in Sunday's Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

And that’s exactly what happened.

After pulling away slightly from race winner Brad Keselowski during a dramatic battle over the last 15 of 267 laps, Earnhardt ran out of fuel on the backstretch, a half-lap from the finish, and coasted home in second place, 1.531 seconds behind the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.

Following a scrape with the outside wall and an off-sequence pit strategy, Keselowski took the checkered flag for the first time this season, the first time at LVMS and the 11th time in his Sprint Cup career.

The winner of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Keselowski completed the first weekend sweep by a Ford driver since Carl Edwards won both races at Phoenix in 2010.



Kevin Harvick looked like a potential race winner until an issue with the left front hub and brakes forced him to the garage at the 200-lap mark.
Having won last week at Phoenix, Harvick was philosophical about the issue that had cost him a chance at consecutive victories.
"It’s hard to complain," said Harvick, who led 23 laps before the issue with the hub relegated him to a 41st-place finish, 30 laps down. "These guys on this Jimmy John’s Chevrolet have given me cars that are good every week."


After struggling in the second half of last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix, Paul Menard came back with a vengeance at Las Vegas, even though his thoughts might have been elsewhere.
With wife Jennifer expecting the couple’s first child – imminently – Menard led six laps in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, running down Jimmie Johnson for the top spot on Lap 199 of 267, and ultimately finished third behind race winner Keselowski and runner-up Earnhardt Jr.
As it turned out, Menard didn’t need the services of Matt Crafton, who was standing by as a potential relief driver in the event Menard’s wife went into labor.
"It’s big for sure," Menard said of his strong performance. "We’ve had a really good car the first three races… just missed it about halfway through the race in Phoenix.
"This is good redemption. The guys never give up. Had a great car in Daytona, obviously led a bunch of laps. But this Quaker State/Menards Chevy was hauling ass on long runs. Had a lot of those today and it kind of played in our favor." 

The NASCAR Wire Service contributed to this report.