FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Will Power raced with his head instead of his gut. Only a catastrophe was likely to derail his IndyCar Series championship, and the Australian knew he had to throttle the aggression that has made his career — and occasionally wrecked it.
Yet after Power moved patiently and safely through the Fontana field, a restart gave him a chance to seize the lead, if only for a few laps.
Power couldn't resist. With one last daredevil move, he pulled in front for just long enough to ensure he wouldn't back into his long-awaited title.
"On that restart, I thought, 'I've got to lead a lap and not go backward,'" Power said. "That was the key to the race. No mistakes. Stay on top of the car. ... It's such an emotional moment for me. I'm so grateful to have this opportunity."
Power won his first series championship Saturday night, finishing ninth in the final race before raising the Astor Cup for the first time in a career filled with agonizing misses.
Tony Kanaan won the 500-mile, double-points race under the lights at Fontana for his first victory of the season, but Power easily preserved his healthy points lead over second-place teammate Helio Castroneves to wrap up Team Penske's first IndyCar title since 2006.
Power felt enormous stress, but didn't show it.
"That was one of the hardest races ever," Power said. "Oh my God, I was crying. It just went on and on. I slowly made up position, and it was great."
Starting from the back after a poor qualifying run, Power patiently picked his way through the field to the front. After that restart with 62 laps to go, the Australian roared into the lead with authority before falling back into a safe parade to the finish.
Kanaan earned his first victory for his new Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, and the 17th of his career. The Brazilian is the 11th driver to win a race this season, tying the North American open-wheel record set in CART in 2000 and 2001.
But the season belongs to Power, who showed much more relief than elation while overcoming still-fresh memories of heartbreak. He led the IndyCar points standings heading into the final race in 2010 and 2012, and he led with two races left in 2011 — but he failed to claim the title each time, a fact that loomed in his mind for 250 laps at Fontana.
"I'm so mentally exhausted right now," Power said. "My hands are numb from holding onto the wheel so tight."
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