FONTANA, Calif. — Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan Hunter-Reay saw his only competition for the IndyCar championship crash out of the title-deciding season finale late Saturday.
Will Power's accident 55 laps into the race should have given Hunter-Reay an open road to his first championship. Instead, he had to hang on for 500 miles, withstand restarts and a red flag to snatch the title from Power at Auto Club Speedway.
Needing to finish fifth, Hunter-Reay did one better, finishing fourth to claim the title by three points over Power, becoming the first American since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 to win the IndyCar championship.
"I always believed that if I got the right opportunity and worked hard enough that I could be in this position," Hunter-Reay said.
Power, denied for a third consecutive year, was in street clothes watching the finish on television. He took a 17-point lead into the finale, but once out of the race, Hunter-Reay had control of his destiny.
"I wish I could put my finger on one particular thing I didn't do right," Power said. "If you look at it, three ovals I crashed out of is a massive hit on points. It's over a whole season that you win a championship and that was proven tonight."
Still, a flurry of late cautions created several restarts and a late red flag drew the ire of team owner Michael Andretti. Hunter-Reay managed to hang on in a race that was won by Ed Carpenter, another American.
Power, an Australian who has finished second in the points three years in a row, visited Hunter-Reay after the finish.
"At the end of the day, Hunter-Reay is a deserving champion, a real fighter," Power said.
Hunter-Reay won a series-best four races this season, his third with Andretti Autosport. He used a string of three consecutive wins during the summer to climb into the title hunt.
NHRA: Shawn Langdon scored his first Top Fuel victory but Tony Schumacher took the classification points lead at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals in Concord, N.C., the first event in the Countdown to Championship playoffs. Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also took class victories. Capps extended his points lead, while Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) maintained their No. 1 spots.