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The Year in Review: Verizon IndyCar Series

On the way to his first championship, Will Power kept matters interesting up until the final laps of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Power began the year with a win at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, picking up where he left off in 2013, winning that year’s final two races.

The Team Penske driver finished second his next time out at Long Beach, then two months later had a stretch of first-second-second at the Chevrolet Indy Dual at Detroit doubleheader and the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway (he also finished eighth in both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500). He led the standings at the midway point of the season.

Then the roller coaster began. Power had a stretch of five races where he finished no better than ninth, losing his points lead to Penske teammate Helio Castroneves. He climbed back atop the series with a run of third-sixth-first (at Milwaukee), but couldn’t slam the door at the penultimate race at Sonoma despite starting from the pole.

Power’s mid-race spin at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma left him with a 10th-place finish, leaving the championship in doubt at the MAVTV 500. Even more doubt swirled after Power qualified 21st, but he drove a patient first half of the 500-miler to get into the top 10 and, later, caught a break at his teammate’s expense when Castroneves was issued a drive-through penalty for a commitment line violation after his last pit stop.

And that’s how a three-time runner-up finally became a champion.

“Honestly, to win the championship, it’s 15 years of hard work for me. Started back in 2000,” Power said. “Just to get the opportunity to drive for Penske and to finish runner-up three times, it’s such an emotional win for me.”

Here are more highlights and tidbits from the season:

Did you see that?: Any discussion of the greatest Indianapolis 500s will include the 98th, after Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves waged a fierce battle to the finish.

The two traded the lead three times in the closing laps, including a daring pass by Hunter-Reay on the far inside of Turn 3 and another at the Yard of Bricks on the white-flag lap. The American won by .060 of a second, the second-closest margin in race history.

“At the end of the day there’s stupid and bravery, and I think we were right there on the edge, both of us,” said Castroneves, who fell just shy of a record-tying fourth “500” victory.

Switcheroo: Less than 24 hours before the first practice for the Indianapolis 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in road-course configuration for the first Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Simon Pagenaud won, fuel-starved at the end but strong enough to hold off Hunter-Reay by .891 of a second.

Lead foot award: Power won the championship but ran afoul of the radar gun several times along the way. At Texas Motor Speedway, he led a race-high 145 laps but was called for a penalty with 35 laps to go, allowing Ed Carpenter to take the lead and eventually win. It was Power’s fourth speeding penalty in a five-race span, including the Indianapolis 500.

Banner day in Bogota: On June 28, Colombia’s Carlos Huertas of Dale Coyne Racing won the first race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader. Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz completed an all-Colombia podium.

A couple hours later, Colombia’s World Cup team won a knockout game over Uruguay.

Unpredictability award: In the second race in Houston, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin finished 1-2 with last-place qualifier Jack Hawksworth finishing third. Huertas, the previous day’s winner, went out after two laps and finished last, while points leaders Power and Castroneves both failed to crack the top 10.

Channeling ‘The Babe’: Montoya won the Pocono INDYCAR 500, 13 years after his last Indy car win in 2000 at Gateway International Raceway. The only two other drivers in Indy car history to go more than a decade between wins were John Paul Jr. (1983, 1998) and Babe Stapp (1927, 1939).

Two for the money: Hunter-Reay won the Iowa Corn Indy 300 after leading just the last two laps, the fewest led laps by any winner in 2014. Tony Kanaan led 247 of 300 laps at Iowa Speedway but couldn’t close the deal.

Not quite ‘The Babe’, but … : In the first race of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader, Sebastian Bourdais dominated in leading 58 of 65 laps and won for the first time in an Indy car since 2007 at Mexico City.

Perfectly matched:
Carpenter and Mike Conway split duties in the Ed Carpenter Racing No. 20 car, with Carpenter running ovals and Conway running road and street courses. They combined for three wins, with Carpenter winning at Texas Motor Speedway and Conway winning at Long Beach and Toronto.

(Whether that partnership continues next year remains to be seen. Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing are merging in 2015 and driving duties have not been announced.)

Honorary Ohioan: Scott Dixon won for the fifth time in eight years at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, topping Bourdais by 5.3 seconds. Dixon qualified last but worked his way up to first before the midpoint of the race, then won behind his own fuel-saving magic and bad luck on the part of Josef Newgarden, who ran over pit equipment while leading and was penalized.

Bragging rights?: Team Penske claimed the Verizon IndyCar Series championship but Target Chip Ganassi Racing headed to the offseason as the hottest team with wins in three of the final four races. Ganassi teammates Kanaan and Dixon finished 1-2 in the final, with Kanaan winning for the first time in the familiar Target No. 10 car.
 

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