Scott Dixon capped a night of celebration for Chip Ganassi Racing with a victory in the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. That was just 30 minutes after his teammate Dario Franchitti effectively clinched his third IndyCar championship with the retirement of Will Power.
"I do believe the competition level in the series is going up," the newly-crowned champion said. "For whatever reason, we at Team Target both Scott (Dixon) and myself maybe didn't have the speed advantage we had last year. In some cases, we have to work harder to finish in the top five at races. So to come away with a championship after a season like that is very satisfying."
Franchitti had a 12-point deficit to Power in the championship coming into the Homestead race weekend, and then cut that to 11 with the pole position. Still, he effectively needed to finish two positions ahead of the Australian in order to secure a second consecutive series title.
From the start, Franchitti drove to make sure that this would be the case, setting the pace at the front of the field with Dixon running shotgun behind him, protecting against the potential attack by Power.
In the event, though, Power didn't have the leaders' pace tonight, and gradually fell back through the field, falling as low as ninth before the first round of pit stops. Meanwhile, the Ganassi train continued in formation at the front of the field.
Pit stop adjustments helped Power's pace, though, and he began to make up lost ground, and he moved to within striking distance, running fourth behind Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Dixon. However, by this time Franchitti had clinched the two bonus points for leading the most laps, and now a victory would be enough for the Scot to take the title.
Victory or nothing it was to be for Power, and as he fought his car to challenge Franchitti for the win and the title, it turned into nothing. On lap 134, he understeered through Turn 4, and brushed the wall. It was not a heavy impact, but enough to bend the rear wishbone, and end his title hopes.
After Power limped into the pits, the team changed the damaged rear suspension in just over five minutes under the full-course caution. Back on track -- but well out of contention -- Power drove a handful of laps before deciding that the car was not safe to continue, and climbing out of the cockpit.
"Obviously, I'm very disappointed with the outcome," he said of his first DNF of the season. "I really wanted to win this championship. It was at a point in the race where I felt I really had to push because Dario had led the most laps and was leading the race."
"The championship is won over 17 races, not one," summed the Australian. "This has been the best season of my career in motorsport and I've learned so much. We'll be coming back to win this thing next year."
With Power out of the race, Franchitti could afford to turn on the cruise control and simply ensure that he would cross the line a 200th time to take the checkered flag. The Scot chose to drive at the tail end of the leading pack of cars, and took eighth place to clinch the championship.
At the front, though, Dixon picked up where his teammate left off, and finished a comfortable 2.7587 in the lead to take his third win of the year. Dixon's 47 laps in the lead, added to Franchitti's 128, and the Ganassi duo's domination is clear with 175 of 200 laps led.
Behind Dixon, it was a duo of Andretti Autosport cars: Kanaan had run at the front of the field for much of the race, and Danica Patrick moved up to challenge her teammate in the closing laps. On the penultimate lap, she made her move powering past her teammate, and took the checkered flag with a 0.0111-second margin to her teammate.
"Hopefully Tony and I put on a good show at the end," Patrick said. "It was a tough 19 laps. It was a good race, and I think we finished out the season on a strong note."
With Power out of the race, the finish must have been a disappointment for Roger Penske, but the legendary team still managed a fourth and a fifth-place finish in the season finale. Ryan Briscoe took fourth place, just over a second behind Kanaan, and Helio Castroneves finished fifth.