Power finally captures title, Kanaan wins Fontana

Power finally captures title, Kanaan wins Fontana

31 August 2014 – Will Power's voice cracked audibly as he spoke to his team on the cool-down laps at Fontana on Saturday night.  Three times in recent memory he has seen the IndyCar title slip through his fingers, sometimes through no fault of his own. But it was the times when his mental roadblocks handed the championships to his rivals that weighed on Power the most. For all of the demons that have chased him this year, causing countless sleepless nights and overwhelming stress, all of them are vanquished tonight.

A ninth-place result after an incredibly fast 500 miles was enough to earn Power his first career IndyCar championship after three runner-up finishes. Calling this his 'toughest race ever,' Power came from second-to-last on the grid on a methodical rise through the order. He purposely stayed back on the start in case of the carnage that punctuated last year's MAVTV  500, but it was quite the opposite that allowed him to take P1 later in the race.

Incredibly clean racing allowed the third leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown to run over 160 laps caution-free – something no other 500-mile race has ever done. This allowed for the first three rounds of pit stops to take place under green, but Power took almost no changes on any of his stops, confident in his car's strength at the high-banked 2.0mi oval in Fontana.

Knowing that the championship would be his if he finished sixth, Power purposely never asked for updates on his radio as to his location relative to his teammate and championship rival, Helio Castroneves. In the meantime, the Brazilian had held station at the front of the field all night, taking turns leading the race on a few different occasions.

The night's polesitter came into the race 51 points adrift of Power, but with the Verizon P1 Award worth one point (as well as another for leading a lap), Castroneves chipped away throughout the 500 miles only to have it come undone for yet another year.

As he made his way around the apron to take his final pit stop, the Brazilian overcooked his entry speed and accidentally slid two tyres back up onto the racing surface, earning him the ire of the stewards and a drive-through penalty that put him a lap down with 60 miles left to race. At the time of the penalty he had slid down to the bottom of the top ten, though – a position that still would have given Will Power the championship. After the drive-through, Castroneves would fall to P14, but he still managed to retain second in the overall points standings on the year.

The other man in the title hunt tonight, Simon Pagenaud, had far worse luck than either of his rivals. A poor-handling car forced him to make several unscheduled pit stops, and when he did get out on track, his laps were often five or ten miles-per-hour slower than the rest of the field. He would finish seven laps down and the last running car on track.

Meanwhile, a very strong race for Tony Kanaan finally saw him break through for Target Chip Ganassi Racing this year, winning the race by 3.6750s over Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter (who endured a pit lane speed violation earlier in the night). Kanaan had jumped the field in the final round of pit stops, and except for a few wheel-to-wheel battles earlier in the night, he pulled away from the pack to send the No.10 Target car to victory lane for the first time since Dario Franchitti, to whom Kanaan dedicated this Ganassi 1-2 finish.

Kanaan had been one of only three men to turn a 218mph lap on the night, and he also became the eleventh different driver to win a race this year, tying an IndyCar Series record.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya led the most laps of the race (thus taking two points from Castroneves' charge) after starting second. He cycled through several times during the pit stops, but he was eventually tracked down and passed by the likes of Dixon, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe.

Hunter-Reay wouldn't stay at the front, though, spinning in dirty air off of turn four to bring out the race's first caution on lap 175. He would go a lap down before earning himself a drive-through for a pit exit violation on his final stop.  He would finish two laps down in P16.

The restart would offer some of the most dramatic moments of the night with Kanaan being surrounded on either side by Dixon and Power (who was fresh off nearly rubbing tyres with Castroneves when the green flag dropped). The Australian took the lead for a few laps before being passed by Kanaan, then Dixon and then Carpenter. The slide down the order, coupled with his need for a more settled racecar led for him to call for half a turn of wing to be taken out in the last stop.

Incredibly, as Castroneves was being penalized, seemingly handing the title to Power, Will's pit crew accidentally put a half a turn of wing into the car, completely unsettling it with 30 laps to go. As a result, Power's lap speeds plummeted to 11mph slower than the leaders, but his fall down the order would not be enough to deny the determined Aussie a long-awaited championship.

With his P9 finish, Power becomes Australia's first ever IndyCar champion. Climbing onto the podium with a Australian flag in hand, Power raised the Astor Cup and already began counting down the 167 days until the 2015 season opener. The title is the first for Roger Penske's squad since Sam Hornish, Jr., in 2006, and it was Chevrolet's third straight manufacturers championship, aided tonight with a 1-2-3-4 finish.

Power's final margin of victory in the standings grew to 62 over Castroneves, who is still yet to win the championship after four runner-up finishes. Scott Dixon jumped two spots up into third, trailing Helio by just five.  Simon Pagenaud slipped from third to fifth, also losing out to Montoya, who is more than pleased with his return to IndyCar after forays into Formula 1 and NASCAR. It also means that three of the top five drivers this year belonged to the Penske stable.

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