Ryan Hunter-Reay is the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion after a drive from 22nd to fourth in the season-ending MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, as prior series points leader Will Power crashed early and despite a valiant effort to return to the track, was overtaken.
Hunter-Reay finished fourth in the race, which ended under yellow after a near identical ending to the Indianapolis 500. Ed Carpenter edged ahead of Dario Franchitti as Takuma Sato crashed through Turn 2; Sato had also lost control at the end of Indy while attempting to pass Franchitti for the win there.
With Power finishing 24th, Hunter-Reay needed to finish at least fifth to score enough points to make up the 17-point difference.
“I have no idea how we did it; it was a team effort,” Hunter-Reay said. “We were struggling. We were really in the woods. I just drove 500 miles for my life. I cannot believe we're IndyCar champions. My dream has come true.”
Power might have won the title for most gracious interview afterwards, given it was the third consecutive year he's lost the title at the last race.
“Full credit to my guys, as that gave us a couple points,” Power said of his team, able to repair the car and give him a fighting chance. “Hunter-Reay's a deserving champion and a real fighter. As far as all-around drivers go, he's up there. Three crashes on three ovals were misses in the points. Three years I've won the road course championship. It's very obvious where I lack.”
Carpenter's win is his second of his career, having also won the last oval race last year at Kentucky Speedway for Sarah Fisher Racing, and also over Franchitti. It's the first win for his Ed Carpenter Racing team and came, fittingly, in Fuzzy's 19th Hole Victory Lane.
"We were really good early, kind of struggled through the middle and the team made some adjustments and we got back in," said Carpenter, who had earlier distinguished himself by catching a lurid slide toward the wall with 30 laps remaining.
Dixon completed the podium ahead of Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves, who had gambled on an extra stop at the final restart to throw on a new set of tires and could potentially have gained another position or two had the race run full distance.
Early race leader JR Hildebrand's evening was ruined when he glanced the wall at Turn 4 and damaged his suspension, costing him two laps in the pits while his car was repaired.
Rubens Barrichello was also in the frame for a good result, running as high as third before his engine went up in flames just before the halfway mark.
Graham Rahal in sixth was the last car on the lead lap. Sato ended seventh ahead of Marco Andretti, Katherine Legge (first top-10 finish of the season) and Charlie Kimball.
Results - 250 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy 2h57m36.6565s
2. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 1.9132s
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 2.6091s
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 3.0477s
5. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy + 4.1933s
6. Graham Rahal Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 5.4381s
7. Takuma Sato Rahal Dallara-Honda + 1 lap
8. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 1 lap
9. Katherine Legge Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 1 lap
10. Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 1 lap
11. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy + 2 laps
12. James Jakes Coyne Dallara-Honda + 2 laps
13. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 3 laps
14. Wade Cunningham Foyt Dallara-Honda + 4 laps
15. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 4 laps
16. Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda + 6 laps
17. Ryan Briscoe Penske Dallara-Chevy + 6 laps
18. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy + 10 laps*
19. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy + 19 laps
Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda 229 laps
Sebastian Saavedra AFS/Andretti Dallara-Chevy 118 laps
Rubens Barrichello KV Dallara-Chevy 107 laps
Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda 80 laps
Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy 66 laps
EJ Viso KV Dallara-Chevy 65 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM Dallara-Lotus 16 laps
* Not running at finish