FONTANA — Scott Dixon became the latest driver to deny Roger Penske an IndyCar championship, wrapping up his third title Saturday night in a race of attrition at Auto Club Speedway.
Will Power won the season finale — a year after he crashed in this race to blow his own title chances — to salvage the night for Penske Racing.
But it was Dixon and Chip Ganassi celebrating on the big stage as the New Zealander won his third series title, and Target Chip Ganassi claimed its 10th championship since 1990. Dixon wrapped it up with a fifth-place finish. He was the final car on the lead lap, and beat Helio Castroneves by 27 points for the title.
Penske has been denied in the season finale six times since Sam Hornish won the organization its last IndyCar championship in 2006.
This one slipped away in spectacular fashion as Castroneves led the points after 14 races this season and took a 49-point lead over Dixon into the Houston doubleheader two weeks ago. But a gearbox issue in the first race, which Dixon won, saw his lead sliced to just eight points.
Then in the second race, Castroneves drove over a bump in the track to cause a catastrophic failure to his gearbox. Dixon finished second and left Houston with a 25-point lead.
It backed Castroneves into a position of almost certainly needing to win Saturday night’s finale to salvage the title. But with the big boss on his pit stand calling the race — Penske told The Associated Press before Houston he’d call the final three races of the season and “if there’s any mistakes, any issues, you can blame it on me” — Penske made a mistake.
He called Castroneves to pit lane before the pits were open during a late caution, and Castroneves was penalized by IndyCar. He went from fourth to eighth after the drive-thru penalty.
“I’m so sorry,” Penske radioed.
Contact later with Dixon teammate Charlie Kimball broke Castroneves’ front wing, and the stop to replace it dropped him a lap down. He was the first car a lap down with his sixth-place finish.
Only nine cars were running at the end, and a six-car accident just past the halfway mark sent Justin Wilson to a local hospital for evaluation. His brother tweeted that Wilson fractured his pelvis.