Keselowski let it ride in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS -- Oh, Lady Luck.

Really?

On Friday, Penske Racing drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski qualified 1-2 for Sunday's Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On Saturday, Roger Penske plunked a hole-in-one on the par-3 No. 4 at Augusta National. Then later in the day Keselowski celebrated a Nationwide Series victory at the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

But Sunday was the topper.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel on the backstretch of the final lap. Keselowski, in position to win thanks to some fearless driving throughout and critical calls by crew chief Paul Wolfe, overtook the Sprint Cup Series points leader going into the final turn to ultimately sweep the weekend -- and all but lock down a spot in the Chase.

Only in Vegas.

For Keselowski, who failed to make the 2013 Chase a year after hoisting the Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the victory helps erase a season of mostly misery.

NASCAR shook up the Chase-qualifying format in the offseason, putting a premium on wins. This year, each race winner is virtually a lock to make the playoff, a point that did not go unnoticed by Keselowski on Sunday.

"I'm glad to be back here in Victory Lane," an elated Keselowski said afterward. "It's very special to get a win early in the year when it's such a relief for everyone on the team and myself included to get that win early and be able to enjoy the racing opportunities that we have instead of being stressed out about them."

With a season-opening victory in the Daytona 500 in the bag, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte could afford to take a big swing Sunday, rolling the dice on fuel. It came up snake eyes.

"The chance that Dale and Stevie took with the 88 car was way out there, and it was a good, risky move on their part because they had nothing to lose because of this [points] format," Keselowski said.

"I felt like we could run him down," he added. "I could tell he was saving a little bit based on the lines he was running compared to where I had seen him earlier in the day ... It was going to play out one of two ways: He was going to have to be 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."

For Earnhardt, six simple words told the story:

"That's all we needed ... 16 ounces."

As in fuel.

The final restart proved pivotal. With 42 laps to go, Earnhardt charged ahead, but Keselowski -- who restarted sixth -- picked up four positions after one lap. He overtook Carl Edwards, then the cat-and-mouse game initiated. Earnhardt would back off, saving fuel, and Keselowski would close. Again and again.

With laps winding down and the No. 2 Ford filling up his rearview, Earnhardt had no option but to run wide open through the checkers. That played right into Keselowski's hands.

"We weren't supposed to make it. We were a lap short," Earnhardt said. "I was lifting early and would let Brad get there, and I felt like if we were good enough to hold him off, then we'd win the race, and if we weren't, we'd save enough fuel to finish the race."

They did accomplish that. Earnhardt finished second, and now has consecutive runner-up efforts after winning at Daytona. Paul Menard ended up third, followed by Logano and Edwards.

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