Photo: Shawn Gritzmacher
Six drivers entered the season finale with a chance to win the championship, in the first race since the death of Justin Wilson. Juan Pablo Montoya (#2 Team Penske, Chevy) came in with the points lead and started fifth. Next to him, and 34 points back was the only Honda in contention, the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry driven by Graham Rahal. Scott Dixon (#9 Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy) was 47 points out and started P9. Pole-sitter Will Power (#1 Penske) started 60 points back, Helio Castroneves (#3 Penske) 77 out and P15, and Josef Newgarden (#67 CFH Racing, Chevy) 87 behind and starting on the front row next to Power.
Double points (100) were set to go to the winner, 80 to P2, 70 to P3, 64 to P4, 60 to P5, 56 to P6, etc. A Top 3 finish would give Montoya the title.
Power held the lead early, followed by Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28 Andretti), Montoya, and Dixon. Castroneves pitted during Lap 4 for tires and a new nose. Power and Newgarden pitted from 1 and 2 on Lap 15 (of 85). Montoya came in the next lap. Power led Newgarden, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, and Montoya after 22 laps.
Montoya collided with Power midway through the race, going to pit lane for repairs and never returning to the front of the pack. With Dixon in the lead, Montoya need to finish fifth or higher to win the championship. He got as close as sixth, his final position, with five laps to go, running 3.5 sec behind Ryan Briscoe (#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda). He cut Briscoe’s led to 1.6 sec, but ran out of race before he could get closer.
The results put Dixon and Montoya in a tie, broken by Dixon’s having won more races this year; 3 (Long Beach, Texas, and Sonoma) vs. 2 (St. Petersburg and the Indy 500). The championship was Dixon’s fourth, the win Ganassi’s 100th in Indy competition. Dixon joined A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Dario Franchitti as drivers with at least four Indy championships.
Montoya, who stood atop the standings since winning the season opener in St. Pete, won the 1999 Indy car title on a tiebreaker over Franchitti.
"There was still a chance and that's what I was hoping for," Dixon said. "I don't know what to say. This season we had some big races, and this was the biggest. We were such a longshot. I knew the car was strong, but you never know until the last lap. That's what it came down to. You hope for it. We had to do our best job and that's what we did today and, luckily enough, it worked out."
Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, finished 6.1115 sec behind Dixon. Two other Ganassi entries - Charlie Kimball (third) and Tony Kanaan (fourth) - finished in the top five and the fourth Ganassi car, driven by Sebastian Saavedra, led 12 laps early and finished 13th.
"My teammates were phenomenal. They helped all year and we won this together," Dixon said. "There is no one person that achieved this on their own and I just thank everybody so much."
Dixon's season started with 15th- and 11th-place finishes before he won at Long Beach in mid-April. He closed with seven Top-10 finishes in the final eight races of the season.
Power, the 2014 series champion who had won three of the past five races at Sonoma Raceway and reset his year-old track record in earning the Verizon P1 Award for the pole Aug. 29, led 26 laps and finished seventh. He wound up third in the standings (63 points behind Dixon). Rahal finished a career-best fourth in the championship (-66 points) and Helio Castroneves was fifth.
"Scott is obviously, I think, he's arguably the driver of our generation-- the Indy car driver of our generation, for sure,” said Ganassi. “I think his stats speak for themselves. His numbers against the other all-time winners and what have you, he's up on the list there. There's not anybody I'd rather have driving our cars, I can tell you. I mean, he's just a quality driver, but a quality person, a father, a husband, just the kind of guy you want in your organization. It's that simple. All around, on the track, off the track, he's the complete package."
"It was a heck of a race,” said Kimball. “Way to go for the Team Target guys. It's so nice to see Dixon win the championship. He works so hard. Such a class act. I know he was there for the Wilson family Sunday night and Monday. So to be able to come out, get a win, and be part of the Chip Ganassi Racing team -- be on the podium and fill out the cars needed so he can win the championship. You know, Chip loves winners and to be able to put the NovoLog FlexPen up on the podium. It's a pretty good day at the office."