CONCORD, N.C. — David Ragan passed Brad Keselowski with just over a lap remaining to win The Sprint Showdown, the qualifying event that moves three drivers into the $1 million Sprint All-Star Race.
Keselowski also moved into Saturday night's main event by finishing second, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned the final spot as winner of the fan vote. A record 2.4 million votes were cast this year, the first Earnhardt was not already qualified for the All-Star race.
Earnhardt had a 10-year exemption for the race for winning it in 2000, but it's expired and a 104-race losing streak meant he needed the Showdown to get him into the All-Star race. He finished sixth in the 27-car field, and insisted he didn't take the fan vote for granted.
"Anytime there's a contest, they don't announce the winner, there's no guarantees," he said. "I knew my fans were working really hard. They've done a great job over the last several years of locking up the most popular driver award. All the credit goes to them. They do all the work, support us so much, really believe in what we're trying to accomplish."
Keselowski, meanwhile, used a daring three-wide pass on an earlier restart to take the lead. He didn't think the move had won him the race, but he knew he needed to get aggressive to have any shot at moving into the All-Star race.
"This race, you either make it into the next race or you might as well not have even came," he said. "I went through the grass to do it. But that's what you've got to do. You've got to take chances."
But Keselowski was run down by Ragan as the laps ticked off on the second 20-lap segment, and Keselowski said that Ragan just might be the driver to beat in the All-Star race.
Ragan was just pleased to give his Roush Fenway Racing crew something to celebrate. He lost a chance to win the Daytona 500 when he was penalized while leading on a late restart.
"We've been so close to closing the deal and haven't been able to do it," he said. "For a few laps, I thought we were going to have to run second. But we kept fighting. It will give us some extra confidence just to be out here in this All-Star Race. This is a race we've had to watch the last three years. It's been pretty tough to go back home and watch it."