Pagenaud clinches first IndyCar championship

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[September 19, 2016]  SONOMA, Calif. -- Will Power's mid-race misfortune at the GoPro Grand Prix in Sunday's IndyCar Series finale at Sonoma Raceway handed the season championship to Simon Pagenaud, but Pagenaud already had a firm grasp on the title.

Pagenaud had an 11-second lead over his Team Penske teammate, the only other remaining championship contender, when Power's car slowed with an electrical problem related to the clutch on Lap 36 of 85. Power's No. 12 machine eventually came to a halt on the track, forcing a caution flag. By the time Power's repairs were made, he was eight laps off Pagenaud's pace and out of title contention.

Capping the season with a dominating race victory, Pagenaud won his first IndyCar championship, becoming the ninth Penske driver to be crowned champion. Roger Penske's organization claimed its 14th such title and its second in three years (Power won in '14).

Pagenaud, a 32-year-old Frenchman, won the title in his second season with Team Penske. This easily was the best season of his career, winning five races and seven poles, both season highs. And this was as good of a Sunday as he could have imagined, scoring the maximum number of points for the weekend after holding off Graham Rahal by 3.25 seconds.

"It's unbelievable," Pagenaud said. "I think I will realize it more tomorrow, but what a race.

"There is so much emotion right now, to be honest, (but) I don't know if you can see it. I can't find the words. My whole career has been about this, about today and getting to this point and to this level. When you can perform 100 percent under pressure like this it's amazing. It's such a good thing."

Juan Pablo Montoya finished third in what likely was his final Team Penske race. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth with Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi fifth to clinch the Rookie-of-the-Year award.

Power finished 20th to retain the second spot in the final standings.

"Even if I had a first (place finish), he was going to have a great day," Power said of Pagenaud. "He did everything he needed to. He qualified on pole, he led the (most) laps, there wasn't much we could do. Have a win, maybe. That's hard."

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Helio Castroneves finished seventh to clinch third place in the championship, giving Team Penske a 1-2-3 standings finish.

Pagenaud won the pole Saturday with a lap only a tick under the track-record time he posted in the first round of qualifying. That was significant because the bonus point he collected allowed him to finish in the top five regardless of what Power did. Prior to that, Pagenaud needed to finish in the top four to lock Power out of contention.

NOTES: Ryan Hunter-Reay signed a four-year extension with Andretti Autosport and its sponsor, DHL, before Sunday's race, a deal that will keep him in the No. 28 car through the 2020 season. Hunter-Reay won the 2012 series championship and the '14 Indianapolis 500 with DHL livery. ... As for familiar livery, Sunday's race was the final one in IndyCar for Target, which joined Chip Ganassi Racing 27 years ago. Its lone car in this race was driven by Scott Dixon, a four-time series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner. ... IndyCar's season-ending event drew a host of celebrities, including two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, whose wife, Ayesha, was the race's grand marshal. Fellow NBA All-Star Kawhi Leonard also attended as did actor Taylor Kinney, who recently split from Lady Gaga. ... IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe gave "Dancing With the Stars" professional dance partner Sharna Burgess a ride around the 2.38-mile permanent road course in a specially-built two-seater experience Indy car. The ride was videotaped for airing on the ABC show, which begins its second week Monday night.

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