Will Power gets first IndyCar title as Tony Kanaan wins Fontana race
Turns out the fourth time was the charm for IndyCar driver Will Power.
The Australian driver captured his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship Saturday night, while Tony Kanaan won the series’ season-ending race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Power finished ninth in the MAVTV 500, and his teammate and closest pursuer in the title chase, Helio Castroneves, finished 14th. That gave Power a 62-point advantage over Castroneves in the final standings.
“I was crying over the [finish] line,” Power, 33, told a television audience from Victory Lane. “It’s for real, man. I can’t believe it. My hands are like numb from holding onto the wheel so tight.”
It was sweet redemption for Power, who was poised to win the championship in three consecutive years — 2010, 2011 and 2012 — only to see the title slip away in the season’s final race.
For Kanaan, the victory Saturday night was the veteran’s first of the season, and it ended a frustrating year in which he had come close to winning several other races in his first season with the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team.
“It was a long time coming,” Kanaan said of his win, his first since he won the Indianapolis 500 last year.
Kanaan’s teammate Scott Dixon, the reigning IndyCar champion, finished second.
Ed Carpenter was third and Power’s other teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, finished fourth.
Power, Castroneves and Montoya drive for owner Roger Penske, and this was Penske’s first IndyCar title since Sam Hornish Jr. won it in 2006.
“What a night, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” Penske said.
Much of the field Saturday night, including Power, moved up one spot before the race started because of rookie Mikhail Aleshin’s crash during practice Friday night.
Aleshin suffered multiple injuries and was in stable condition at a local hospital Saturday. But his team opted not to race his car with a replacement driver. Aleshin had qualified eighth, so everyone from ninth to 22nd gained a spot.
Power, who qualified a poor 21st, started 20th because of the Aleshin situation and then methodically picked off one car after another through the first 160 laps of the 250-lap race to reach sixth place.
At the same time, the race was running at a blistering pace because there were no incidents that triggered caution periods.
But the race’s complexion changed on Lap 176 when Ryan Hunter-Reay spun out in Turn 4 of the two-mile Auto Club Speedway oval to bring out the first caution flag.
After the restart, Power decided to be aggressive and in one lap he stormed to first from fourth by passing Castroneves, Dixon and Kanaan.
With 34 laps left, Castroneves’ title hopes all but vanished when he was penalized for a pit-road violation that dropped him to 14th.
“After that it was just bring it home,” Castroneves said. “It gives me a reason to come back stronger next year.”
French driver Simon Pagenaud was third in the title standings when the race started, 81 points behind Power, but his championship hopes ended before 25 laps were completed.
Pagenaud had to make an early pit stop with an ill-handling car, then his team struggled to get him out of the pits quickly. That dropped the Frenchman to the rear of the field and he ultimately finished 20th.
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