Scott Dixon edged away from Will Power to win the final Motegi IZOD IndyCar Series race, as Power took the points lead after title rival Dario Franchitti was involved in a collision.
Ganassi driver Dixon headed Power's Penske Dallara throughout the 63 laps, pulling away a little in the closing stages after they had run a second or so apart for most of the distance.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Team Target," Dixon said. "I was sort of just cruising. It's fantastic and a great credit to the team. Everything was flawless. (Will) was more difficult toward the end. I was lucky they waved off the last restart because he might have had momentum to get by. It was so dirty on the inside."
Power more or less agreed with the assessment.
"I think the only opportunity (to pass) was the restarts," he said. "We raced hard to (Turn) 1. Scott was just solid all day."
But any frustration Power felt at being unable to get on terms with Dixon was alleviated by knowledge of Franchitti's messy day. The reigning champion got up from his disappointing ninth place on the grid to fifth in the first stint, only to tap Penske's Ryan Briscoe into a spin on a lap 26 restart.
The incident ruined the races of three of Ganassi's four cars, as satellite team duo Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball were collected by Briscoe's spinning car. Franchitti became entangled with Briscoe, sustained a damaged wing, and was sent to the back of the field for the next restart as a punishment. He eventually made it back through to ninth, helped by a restart with two laps to go after Dale Coyne Racing's Sebastien Bourdais clashed with Ryan Hunter-Reay and left the Andretti car stuck in the gravel.
"The call was rightly so on the penalty," Franchitti said. "It was a stupid move on my part. I thought there was a gap, and the gap closed quickly. My mistake. I'd done a lot of the hard work getting up to fourth, and screwed it up. I apologized to Ryan. He was right when he said, 'You have more to lose than I did.' But I ruined my teammates' days, too, Graham and Charlie. I'm pissed off for that. It could have been worse, but should have been a lot better. If I want this championship, I have to stop making mistakes. We all make mistakes, but I shouldn't have made that one today."
Dixon handled the restart perfectly to edge away from Power again and win by 3.4sec. The result gives Power a 13-point championship lead with two rounds to go, and means he has won this year's road course crown.
Marco Andretti took third for Andretti Autosport, jumping ahead of Oriol Servia – who had surged forward from 16th on the grid and took particular profit from the chaos around the Franchitti restart incident – in the final stops. Servia (Newman/Haas) attacked Andretti at the late restart, but ended up being shuffled back to fifth behind Sam Schmidt driver Alex Tagliani. Like Servia, the Canadian had made up huge ground amid the early incidents.
Bourdais survived his collision with Hunter-Reay to finish sixth. Helio Castroneves went off at the first corner of the race before recovering to seventh for Penske, passing Panther's JR Hildebrand on the last lap.
Behind Franchitti, Mike Conway completed the top 10 in another Andretti car. He had been on course for the top six until a late dust-up with Bourdais and EJ Viso.
Local hero Takuma Sato had an early clash with Joao Paulo de Oliveira's Conquest car, recovered to seventh, but then collided with his KV teammate Viso on the last restart and fell to 11th, with Viso ending up 22nd.
Their teammate Tony Kanaan tried an unsuccessful three-stop strategy to move up from his back row starting position, and was further hampered by a pit speeding penalty, leaving him 18th.
Problematic pit stops spoiled the promising weekends of rookies James Jakes – who got as high as third – and James Hinchcliffe. The Dale Coyne and Newman/Haas drivers ended up only 14th and 16th, respectively.
Results - 63 laps:
Pos Driver Team Gap
1. Scott Dixon Ganassi
2. Will Power Penske + 3.4375s
3. Marco Andretti Andretti + 4.4782s
4. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt + 5.5913s
5. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas + 6.1621s
6. Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne + 6.6399s
7. JR Hildebrand Panther + 8.7436s
8. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 9.0690s
9. Mike Conway Andretti + 9.3816s
10. Takuma Sato KV + 10.1187s
11. Danica Patrick Andretti + 10.6995s
12. Graham Rahal Ganassi + 11.4555s
13. James Jakes Dale Coyne + 11.6119s
14. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 12.0651s
15. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas + 12.5498s
16. Giorgio Pantano Dreyer & Reinbold + 14.4549s
17. Tony Kanaan KV + 15.8407s
18. Hideki Mutoh AFS/Sam Schmidt + 16.3024s
19. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold + 20.5159s
20. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 38.5887s
21. EJ Viso KV + 1m39.0777s
22. Helio Castroneves Penske + 7.6856s*
23. Charlie Kimball Ganassi + 1 lap
24. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti + 1 lap
Vitor Meira Foyt 61 laps
Joao Paulo de Oliveira Conquest 19 laps
*Castroneves penalized from 7th to 22nd after passing Hildebrand under yellow.