|Credit Michael L. Levitt/INDYCAR/LAT USA|
It came down to the last lap of the last race. Every corner of every lap had counted. Every second of every pit stop had been vital. Every car passed meant something, every position crucial.
No, I’m not talking about the 2012 Race for the Chase. Nor am I talking about the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship.
While 18-year-old, too-new-to-even-be-a-rookie Ryan Blaney earned his first win in a top-tier NASCAR series in a cornfield in Iowa, 31-year-old veteran Ryan Hunter-Reay battled 31-year-old Will Power for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Championship at Auto Club Speedway in California. Hunter-Reay emerged victorious in an epic duel befitting what was arguably the most exciting season since the IZOD IndyCar series was born from the merger of the CART/CWSS and the IRL.
Ed Carpenter, also 31, survived 500 eventful laps to claim his only win of the season in the Ed Carpenter Racing No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. The MAVTV 500 ended under caution as, in an echo of the Indianapolis 500 finish, Takuma Sato crashed trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the last lap. This time Carpenter, who had led a race-high eight times for 61 laps, shot past Franchitti before the yellow flag flew.
|Credit: Jamey Price/INDYCAR/LAT USA|
Marco Andretti started from the pole for the first time since 2008. Tony Kanaan passed Andretti to lead the first lap, but Andretti passed him back to lead Lap 2 and the race was on.
On Lap 54, the twists began. Power spun in Turn 2, making hard contact with the SAFER Barrier and taking his championship dreams out of his hands and putting them into the cockpits of the other competitors. With Power out, Hunter-Reay had to finish sixth or better to win the Astor Cup. The remainder of the race tested the mettle of the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda team and kept fans on the edges of their seats, especially when Power’s Penske Racing team managed to get his car back on the track for an additional 11 laps – enough to finish 24th and making Hunter-Reay’s magic number shrink to fifth.
One by one, leaders met with either the wall or mechanical issues. JR Hildebrand on Lap 73, Alex Tagliani on Lap 230. Tony Kanaan, who was racing for the AJ Foyt Oval Championship, spun on Lap 240, strewing debris across the track. In a controversial decision, rookie race director Beaux Barfield called for the red flag on Lap 242, setting up the eight-lap shootout with Dario Franchitti leading and Hunter-Reay needing five positions to secure the championship. Sato restarted fourth behind Hunter-Reay, but passed him trying to get to the front. When Sato crashed, it gave Hunter-Reay the spot he needed to win the Drivers Championship as well as the Oval Championship.
The win by Andretti Autosport’s Hunter-Reay marks the first time an American has held the title since Sam Hornish Jr. won in 2006. It's also the third year that Power went into the finale with the points lead and emerged in second place. Last season he was involved in the 17-car melee that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon, giving the championship to Dario Franchitti despite the fact that the race was stopped. In 2010, Power crashed on Lap 143 and lost the championship to Franchitti by a scant five points.
For the first time since the merger, Chevrolet manufactured engines for the series and both Hunter-Reay's team Andretti Autosport and Power's team Penske Racing used them. The DW12 chassis built by Dallara that were tested extensively by the late Dan Wheldon and ultimately named for him proved to be tough, yet still produced some of the best racing seen in many seasons.
Complete race results:
Pos. Driver Laps Status
|26||Simona de Silvestro||16||mechanical|