Gambling in NASCAR is not always the smartest move.
That is exactly what Dale Earnhardt Jr. learned the hard way during Sunday’s Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas.
Crew chief, Steve Letarte, told his driver over the speaker as he spend past the white flag, “If it runs out, stay on the track and coast to the finish.”
When he referred to “it” running out, he meant the gasoline in the race car.
And, sadly for Earnhardt, running out of gas is exactly what happened. In terms of playing smart, the crew chief may not have been weighing all of his options.
Earnhardt was so close to taking the win after he pulled ahead of Brad Keselowski during a one-on-one battle over the last 15 laps of the 267 lap race. Earnhardt ran out of fuel on the backstretch, where he was ONLY a half-lap away from the checkered flag finish. But, he coasted through in second place 1.531 seconds behind Keselowski who took the win.
Keselowski and his car met the outside wall for a split second and then took his first win for the 2014 season. This was his first win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his 11th Sprint Cup career win.
Keselowski, also the winner of Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race, took the spotlight from Carl Edwards and became the next racer to complete a weekend sweep. Edwards won both races at Phoenix in 2010.
After winning the Daytona 500, Earnhardt came in second place for the second-straight race out of three. Paul Menard finished third, followed by Joey Logano, who won the poll for Sunday, and Carl Edwards.
This means that Ford grabbed three of the top five positions. That’s extremely good for them as the season is only just beginning.
To complete the top 10, Jimmie Johnson came in sixth, Ryan Newsman was seventh followed by Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth.
Was the gambling move smart of Earnhardt? Or, did he hand the win over to Keselowski?
Gambling always makes watching NASCAR a little bit more interesting. It keeps fans on the edge of their seat because they are anxiously awaiting what will happen next, especially when it’s down to the last 15 laps.
Earnhardt stayed on track during the lap 222 pit stops when they were under the fourth caution of the day for debris on the front stretch.
This caution was actually beneficial to Keselowski because he took the opportunity to refuel and this allowed him to get back on track with the lead-lap drivers.
But, running that low on gas is almost asking to fall back and I think that it would have been a smart move for Earnhardt to have filled up.
He had an awesome car throughout the entire 267 laps and running out of gas could have been prevented.
In an interview, Keselowski claimed to not be surprised that Earnhardt was willing to gamble at the finish. He said, “It’s such a [relief] for myself and everyone on the team to get that win in early and being able to enjoy the racing opportunities that we have, rather than being stressed out about it. The chance that Dale and Stevie took with the 88 car was way out there.”
I do agree with saying that the chance they took being extremely out there, but it was a strong and risky move. As a NASCAR fan, I don’t find many risky moves being made by drivers.
It is also true that the No. 88 team had nothing to lose because of the new Sprint Cup Chase format and their winning of the Daytona 500. With the new Chase format and a more “stress-free” set-up, Earnhardt may have done something that a lot of other drivers are just simply waiting to do, take a risk.
Just because it didn’t work in this case, doesn’t mean it never will. I think that is something the drivers are beginning to realize.