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IndyCar: Tony Kanaan leads Ganassi 1-2, Will Power is 2014 champion
Tony Kanaan, who dominated Iowa, looked a strong threat to Team Penske at Pocono and who has just completed his first season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, ended 2014 with a flourish when he dominated the final two stints of the MAVTV 500 to take his first win for the No. 10 that his friend Dario Franchitti made so famous over the past five seasons. Kanaan generously dedicated the victory to the retired four-time champion.
“I told Dario, ‘I hope you feel a big part of this win, too,’” said Kanaan.
"We had a team meeting this afternoon and Chip says, 'If you win the last race you get brag about it for seven months.' So, I went ahead and did it.
"Great team effort, 1-2. Great pit stops. The boys did great and what an awesome feeling man. It's been a long time coming. We had close calls this year and I'm just glad."
Kanaan also graciously refrained from donutting, and left that to the new Verizon IndyCar Series champion…
Down the road at Team Penske, there was joy for the title-winner Will Power, and disappointment for Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian polesitter didn’t lead the first lap – that honor went to Juan Montoya, who had the strongest of Penske’s three cars tonight – but did lead the second. Meanwhile, Power made slow but steady progress from the back of the grid.
However, Castroneves never appeared to have a car with which to dominate, and first Montoya, then outgoing champion Scott Dixon demoted him to third. After the first round of pit stops, the three-time Indy 500 winner’s fortunes took a further dive when he emerged in fourth, behind James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport, while Power was up to 12th.
From that moment on, Power kept climbing and Castroneves never looked able to put enough cars between him and his Aussie teammate, who entered the race with a 50 point lead in the championship in terms of the championship. Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay took turns in the lead, but were neutered by a drive through penalty for speeding on pit-entry for the former and a spin for the latter coming out of Turn 4 on lap 175.
"I was pushing really hard on old tires under Tony Kanaan for second and the car just came around on me - just snapped completely and we went a lap down," groaned the 2012 champion who benefited from a similar incident by Power two years ago at this track. "I thought I had some suspension issues on the rear, which ended up just being flat-spotted tires from the spin. We never got our lap back, so that's where we wound up. It's unfortunate because the DHL car was good tonight... Another one got away."
Amazingly, the subsequent yellow flag period was the first of the night. Even more amazingly, was the boldness with which Power surged into the lead to earn a bonus point when the green flag flew at the start of lap 188, a payoff that helped balance the fact that running the low line was hurting his tires.
Kanaan, Dixon and then Carpenter made their way past the No. 12 entry as its handling went away. After the final stops, Castroneves, too, emerged ahead of his teammate, but incurred a drive-through penalty for a transgression as he entered the pits, putting two wheels into a no-go zone. That dropped him to 14th, a hole he was never going to get out of with only 30 laps to go.
On learning the news, Power drove a conservative race to the flag, dropping to ninth, but the big prize, which eluded him in 2010, ’11 and ’12 was finally his.
"I'm so mentally exhausted now. I'm just so exhausted. My hands are numb from holding onto the wheel so tight. Man, I want to be a lot more excited but I'm just so drained. That was just mega. I can't believe I won it."
"I never thought it was over. Just knowing how things have gone in the past. But when I took the lead, I thought 'This is good. I believe we've got a pretty good shot here.' When they said Helio got a drive though I said 'Hey, this is it. We can do this. We can win it.'"
Montoya, though, was top Penske of the evening, taking fourth place, ahead of Hinchcliffe (top Honda finisher) who recovered well from his penalty, and a strong under-the-radar performance by Takuma Sato for AJ Foyt Racing, similar to his drive at Sonoma.
"It was a long fast race! I couldn't believe only 1 yellow for 500 miles--it felt long," said Sato. "The ABC car was fast, we just needed a little more work in traffic. The car would lose a lot of grip and I struggled. When I had clean air it was pretty fast and I could catch people and then just chip away at them. It was a good race for us."
Ryan Briscoe, had an interesting race, in that he was often the fastest car at the end of a stint, having conserved his tires better than most, but he never cracked the top five, as he pitted with the others. Eighth was enough to seal a well deserved Rookie of the Year title for Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz.
Something that will probably get buried by the various other statistics of the night is that Scott Dixon's runner-up finish sent him up to third place in the final points standings - which gives Ganassi's Kiwi an astonishing eight consecutive seasons in the top three of the championship.
Castroneves, the outsider who fought a good fight and came up 62 points short, was as magnanimous as ever.
"I was pushing extremely hard. I knew the only way for us to get in front was through the pits and my ins and outs seemed to be working very well except for my last one and I got a drive though. So my bad.
"But well done, Will! You are the champ, man, good job. So, I hope the rate in his house doesn't increase now, because every time I go and sleep in his house he charges me. But at the end of the day, great season for Team Penske."
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