The Frontstretch: IndyCar Recap: Fontana Finale And 2013 Championship by Huston Ladner -- Monday October 21, 2013

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IndyCar Recap: Fontana Finale And 2013 Championship

Huston Ladner · Monday October 21, 2013


In a Nutshell: Will Power started on pole, led the first handful of laps, fell back for a stint, and then held his own at the front to earn a season-ending oval win. Power could do what few else in the race could, and that’s drive away from the field. Even with an extra pit stop for a visor issue on his helmet, he was able to maintain position near the front (though much owed to other drivers also being frustrated with a variety of problems). Ed Carpenter finished second, Tony Kanaan took third, followed by James Hinchcliffe in fourth and the 2013 champion, Scott Dixon, in fifth.

Will Power won the battle, Saturday night but Scott Dixon (pictured) won the war. He captured his third career IndyCar championship with a solid, top-5 performance.

The big story, of course, was Dixon earning his third IndyCar Championship. Dixon lived up to his nickname “The Iceman” and calmly drove a race where he stayed out of trouble, conquering an overheating problem he faced late in the race. Dixon has now won titles in 2003, ’08 and ’13.

Key Moment: Early in the race, on lap 71 when Sebastian Saavedra’s right-rear tire exploded, sending him into the wall. Pippa Mann tried to avoid Saavedra but became an innocent victim in “one of those racing incidents.” The ensuing caution allowed Dixon to jump from twelfth to sixth with a beautiful pit stop by his Target crew. The move put Dixon in a spot to never be far from his rival Castroneves.

For Power, the aforementioned stop for a visor may have been what helped his team, as he then stopped a second time for fuel, tires, and an adjustment to begin a strategy that was slightly off-sequence. Once he took the lead, on Lap 136, he was never far from it again during the race. Power, known for stumbling on ovals, was fired up by comments made by Ed Carpenter before the event. Power, with a chance to win the title last year at Fontana wrecked and Carpenter said that it was “what everyone thought he’d do.” Emboldened, Power drove certainly the best oval race of his career.

Highlight Reel:

– Dixon’s championship now means that Ganassi Racing has won 10 since 1996. More impressive is that Ganassi has won five of the last six.

– Dixon’s top-5 finish was his tenth of the year, the most of any driver. Castroneves and Dixon both finished 17 of 19 races, but Castroneves had just one win to Dixon’s three.

- Carpenter’s second-place finish showcased his oval racing prowess, as he scored top 10s at all four this year. He has also finished in the top two the past three years in the season finale.

- With Power’s victory, Chevrolet won the manufacturer’s title. The win also catapulted Power into fourth place in the driver standings. He also won three of the last five races, overcoming what had been a terrible start to the season.

- Andretti Autosport announced (in a move that seemed all too likely not to happen) that his team would be switching to Honda engines next year. With Penske remaining with Chevrolet, and Ganassi switching to them, Honda needed a marquee name to remain in IndyCar, and they got it. Andretti’s other announcement divulged that James Hinchcliffe with remain with the team with new sponsor United Fiber and D.

Will Power called his victory at Fontana “the most satisfying thing I have ever done” in IndyCar.

- Justin Wilson broke his pelvis in three places due to a wreck on Lap 111. The breaks are non-operable and the doctors believe he will heal fine. For a driver that has openly eschewed oval-track racing, this incident will do little to appease his dislike. On the positive side, for all the wrecks, none of the cars took flight, keeping them on the track and assuaging one of IndyCar’s biggest fears of high-speed racing.

- More of a lowlight. The Auto Club Speedway track proved all too treacherous and for more than just the high speeds. A mix of sand, tire klag, and debris created problems for a number of teams like Dixon, Marco Andretti, and Simon Pagenaud. Whether or not that can be addressed, perhaps through a different tire compound, is unclear. Only nine cars finished the race in running condition.

- The 2014 IndyCar schedule was released this past weekend and showed that the governing body is condensing the races to basically a five-month period. It gets rid of the long gaps that plagued the 2013 season. Fan reaction has seemed to embrace that aspect while bemoaning the lack of ovals. Where are you Phoenix? Homestead? Richmond? Rockingham?

- From a television perspective, the stands at Auto Club Speedway looked like they were empty. But that’s where TV can skew things. The track in Fontana seats almost 90k, and while IndyCar would love to pack that, the “modest” 30-35k had to feel like a solid turnout. One Ganassi employee said, “you should have seen it last year” stating that this year was a good show.

Notable Drivers: Um, no offense but with only nine drivers running and only five on the lead lap, there’s not much to go with here. How about a tip o’ the cap to Tony Kanaan taking third place in a race where a win would have netted him a $250,000 bonus. In his last race for the lesser-funded KV Racing team, no less…

From the Twittersphere:

Some deep thoughts coming in 140 characters or fewer…

Dario Franchitti @dariofranchitti
Another great drive by @TonyKanaan last night, next year the team is going to be very strong. Thanks for the shout outs TM!!

And another from Franchitti…
Dario Franchitti @dariofranchitti
A hell of a drive tonight @12WillPower See you down the road mate!!

Ryan Hunter-Reay ‏@RyanHunterReay
Wild race last night. Kinda summed up our season. Led early, then it all came undone (flat tire & overheating). Had a great car though..

Helio Castroneves @h3lio
Thank you so much all the fans again for the support, I really try everything, so proud of my @penskeracing boys!! Can’t wait for 2014!!

It should be noted that Castroneves acted gracious in his loss by visiting Dixon on the champion’s stage.

Marco Andretti @MarcoAndretti
Next year I am racing to win a championship.

Tony Kanaan @TonyKanaan
Hang in there mate. @justin_wilson. Thinking of you. Be there to see you soon.

Direct from Power: “It’s the most satisfying win of my life. That is the most satisfying thing I have ever done.”

What’s Next: Fans will have to wait until March 30, 2014, which is when IndyCar returns to the streets of St. Petersburg. Offseason testing begins in two weeks for those who are quite curious about the goings-on in the IndyCar world. Though the season may be ending, we’ve still got more coverage on here, with a deeper look at the season finale and driver/team recaps in the coming weeks.

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