On Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski had the fuel while Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t as he made his way by on the final lap to take the victory.
Keselowski knew that Earnhardt Jr. would probably be short on gas going down near the end and could tell that he was saving fuel. For that reason, Keselowski felt that if he could get up there and put pressure on him, he could make Earnhardt run faster laps and perhaps run out of fuel.
“Once that happened, I knew we were in really good shape,” Keselowski said. “It was going to play out one of two ways: He was going to have to get in fuel conservation mode and I think I could have passed him and drove away or he was going to have to burn fuel to keep me behind him. At that point it was just a matter of whether a yellow came out or not because it was just a ticking time bomb, and it worked in our favor today.”
Keselowski says the win means a lot to him for many reasons – including the fact that he beat the person that gave him his first chance in the sport.
“This is the first time that I can recall really racing that close for the win at the end,” he commented. “Daytona this year we restarted side by side on the green-white-checkered, but I wasn’t really there. I wasn’t there when it counted, and here we were there when it counted, right, and racing like that is just — that’s what you live for as a driver, at least I do, those moments where you’re side by side and you lay it all out on the racetrack and bring back the car with the tires smoking, engine smoking, and you’re worn out inside because you gave it all you had. It was one of those races there at the end.
“For it to be one of those races against someone who’s provided me such a tremendous opportunity those years back, it definitely is something that I cherish even more.”
With the new Chase format this year, Keselowski says great to get to victory lane and special to get a win early in the year as its a relief for the team. He added that it allows them to enjoy the rest of hte season and races without being stressed that they may miss the Chase due to not having a win.
With being – mostly – locked in the Chase, it allows Keselowski to take chances and possibly pick up some more wins based on strategy. As a result, he feels that attitude will lead to better racing as it did on Sunday with Earnhardt Jr. taking that chance on fuel due to his Daytona 500 win.
“I think that shows some of the opportunities that come up and how they can be stress-free days, and I’m looking forward to being able to take those same opportunities, because believe me, I’m not scared to take them, and I know Paul’s not, so look out,” he added. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Keselowski missed the Chase last year, so get into it early on in the season is certainly a relief for the 2012 series champion. Everybody knew that Keselowski would be gunning hard early for it in the season as he is a determined driver. Earnhardt Jr. recalled when Keselowski drove for him and mentioned how Keselowski was always there, coming up with ideas.
“He overthinks everything, and he comes up with 20 ideas and 18 of them are crazy but two of them are great,” Earnhardt said. “You know, that’s the way he always was with us. Pops has had to run him out of the shop because he’s just nitpicking everything on the car, why is that like that, why don’t we turn this this way and do it like this. A lot of the stuff, Pops would have to explain it to him, but hell, a couple ideas would be pretty good. Brad does that with everything, and that’s why he’s successful.”
Keselowski says that he doesn’t remember that story, but knows that his current crew chief Paul Wolfe has kicked him out of the shop a couple times and car owner Roger Penske has given him a couple strange looks. However, Keselowski says that he likes to be different and think outside of the box.
“I love doing things that no one has done before, and that’s a lot of fun for me, whether it’s sending out a tweet during the middle of the Daytona 500 or trying to move on the racetrack to win a race,” he commented. “Those moments to me are a lot of fun and probably the funnest moments in racing when you’ve done something no one else has done because they’re a significant accomplishment that no one else can really own.
“We’ve done a few of them there, and I know we’ve got a few more to come, but they come from all those crazy ideas. Every once in a while there’s a good one.”
Though while the race was exciting, the same type of concerns emerged about mile and a half tracks – the cars being harder to drive in traffic due to the air around them. Keselowski says that’s a common theme throughout American motorsports no matter the series right now due to everybody looking for ways to get the most amount of downforce.
“It’s making it very difficult to drive the cars in traffic, and it makes the cars very easy to drive by themselves,” Keselowski added. “It’s just part of the evolution of racing, and maybe not necessarily what we want to see happening from a fan perspective, but it’s just where the competitors are taking the racing.”