With so much attention focused on Will Power capturing his first IndyCar championship, Tony Kanaan‘s win in the series’ season-ending race at Fontana took second stage.
Not that Kanaan minded.
The 39-year-old Brazilian was thrilled to finally get his first win of the year Saturday night to cap off his first season with the powerhouse IndyCar team of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Kanaan, one of the most popular drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, won the MAVTV500 at Auto Club Speedway by nearly four seconds over second-place Scott Dixon, Kanaan’s teammate and last year’s IndyCar champion.
“Extremely happy,” Kanaan said after celebrating in Victory Lane. “The good thing about winning the last race, you get seven months to brag” before the 2015 season starts next spring, he said.
Power, who drives for Team Penske, finished ninth in the race, which was good enough for the 33-year-old Australian to win his first championship.
His closest pursuer in the title chase was his teammate Helio Castroneves, who started the race on the pole but finished 14th after a late pit-road violation cost him several positions.
One of the people to greet Kanaan in Victory Lane was his close friend Dario Franchitti, the four-time IndyCar champion who was forced to retire from driving after he was seriously hurt in a racing crash last October.
Ganassi hired Kanaan — who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 — to replace Franchitti in the car this year, and a recovered Franchitti helped guide Kanaan through the season.
“I actually dedicated this victory to [Franchitti],” Kanaan said. “I was grateful for what he’s done for me this year. He helped me adapt to the team really quick.”
Kanaan started Saturday’s race in seventh and ultimately led 64 of the race’s 250 laps.
“I knew I had a [good] car,” he said. “I was just really confident.” But Kanaan added that he “kept it to myself” because “I knew how many things had to go right, from end to end, to win it.”
Rahal’s trying year
One driver ready to forget about 2014 is Graham Rahal.
Rahal, 25, is the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who co-owns their team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
The younger Rahal finished 19th in the 21-car field Saturday night, six laps down from the leaders, and 19th in the IndyCar title standings.
“Longest night of my career,” Rahal said on Twitter after the race. “2014 is behind us and I couldn’t be happier. Time to improve on all fronts.”
Rahal drove to victory in his first IndyCar race in 2008, in St. Petersburg, Fla., at age 19. He hasn’t won another race since then.
It’s not yet known if the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval will again host IndyCar’s season finale next year because the series has yet to reveal its 2015 schedule.
The speedway has said it would like to host IndyCar again next year but would prefer a date when temperatures are cooler. IndyCar ended its 2013 season at Fontana in mid-October, but this year the series wanted to end its season on Labor Day weekend.
Although it hasn’t released its full schedule, IndyCar has said it will not return to Houston next year and it will have a new race in New Orleans.