Team Penske scored the victory with Will Power on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in the IndyCar Series season finale but could not secure the championship as Helio Castroneves came up 27 points short to Scott Dixon when the final twin checkers of the season fell.
Castroneves entered the race 26 points behind Dixon and needed both a solid performance and some bad luck to befall his championship rival. He received half of what he needed with a sixth place finish but still came up one position short to Dixon on the track with his 10th top-five of the season.
Castroneves led 27 laps but could never really escape the spectre of Dixon who ran in the top-10 for much of the day and survived the barrage of late-race accidents that turned the MAVTV 500 into a battle of attrition. Complicating matters was that Dixon began to endure an overheating issue in the last 100 laps and had to make several stops to clean out the car's radiator.
"It was a crazy day," Dixon told TV in Victory Lane. "We started back, the car we had to work on all race. It's a huge credit to Team Target. We had strategy and some overheating problems to the end. Can't believe we won the championship. I guess the five year thing played out, through the trials and tribulations this year."
Dixon has now won a championship in every five years, starting in 2003, 2008 and now 2013.
Castroneves realistically had to win or finish second to win the championship and Dixon would clinch automatically with a fifth-place or better. As it turns out, Dixon's fifth-place made the entire championship battle a moot point.
While Penske could not close out on the championship, his other full-time driver (Power) was able to score a much-desired win. Power's only previous IndyCar oval victory came at Texas in the much-debated 2011 doubleheader in the second race. Power received a favorable draw while the winner of the first race, Dario Franchitti started near the back.
This is the first win that arguably comes without an asterisk and also softens the heartache from this race last season where Power was leading the championship before a crash early in the event and lost out in the campaign to Ryan Hunter-Reay. It was the third championship that Power had lost in the final race in as many seasons and winning at Fontana gives the team a lot of momentum to chase that first championship in 2014.
"That is the most satisfying thing I have ever done, and I wanted to do it so badly all year," Power said. "In the early [oval races] I was kind of conservative and wanted to finish every lap. But this time, I was going for it.
"I knew we had a very quick car, and I didn't care - I just said, ‘Let's fix this. We can win this,'" Power added. "This is just the most satisfying thing. I'm so stoked for [sponsor] Verizon and it's a great way to end the season."
Power's victory was his third over the final five races and climbed all the way to fourth in the standings following a disastrous start to the year where he spent most of the season outside of the top-10 in the standings.
The race was somewhat marred by several multi-car accidents, including one that sent Justin Wilson to the hospital for three fractures on his pelvis.
Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Dixon completed the top-five.
The complete race results can be found below.
- Will Power
- Ed Carpenter
- Tony Kanaan
- James Hinchcliffe
- Scott Dixon
- Helio Castroneves
- Marco Andretti
- Simona De Silvestro
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Charlie Kimball
- JR Hildebrand
- Sebastien Bourdais
- Simon Pagenaud
- Alex Tagliani
- Graham Rahal
- AJ Allmendinger
- Takuma Sato
- Justin Wilson
- Oriol Servia
- Josef Newgarden
- Tristan Vautier
- James Jakes
- Carlos Munoz
- Sebastian Saavedra
- Pippa Mann