KANSAS CITY, Kan. — On Sunday at Kansas Speedway, a fuel-mileage race broke out and once again Dale Earnhardt Jr. was near the front of the field at the end of the race.
This time, he had enough fuel to make it to the end of the STP 400. However, Brad Keselowski did too, and Junior finished second to his former JR Motorsports driver after it looked like he was poised to break his winless streak if Keselowski wasn't able to make it.
"When [Junior] passed me, I thought it was for the win," Denny Hamlin, who finished third, said.
After starting 25th, Earnhardt Jr. creeped up towards the top 10 in the middle of the race, but caused a caution on Lap 153 when he slid off of Turn 4. That, though, set up the strategy that allowed Junior to pit after a caution flew on Lap 161 — the same time that Hamlin made his next-to-last stop.
"When that caution came and we came and got fuel, we put ourselves in a one-stop scenario where everybody else didn't pit, they couldn't give up the track position because it was so hard to pass," Junior said.
And it looked like it would be a duel between those two for the race win as the leaders made their final stops as the laps wound down. However, Keselowski was able to milk 57 green-flag laps out of his final tank of fuel, the longest green-flag fuel stint that anyone was able to make all day.
"We were just rolling the dice man. That's all it was," Earnhardt said. "You know how the dice is, sometimes it works for you and sometimes it don't."
Earnhardt is now third in the points standings, 41 points behind Carl Edwards and one behind Jimmie Johnson, the man who's won the last five championships. And calling Junior a championship contender is less and less of a stretch with every passing week, winless streak or not.
"We've had some runs where we've drove ourselves into the positions where we finished," Junior said. "We've finished well by running well and by getting lucky. And that's what championship teams do. You always scratch your head when Jimmie and them guys look like they're out of it and next thing you know, you turn around at the end of the race and they're right there in the middle of it, you know?"
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- Brad Keselowski
- Denny Hamlin