Will Power thought the world was ending when an earthquake shook him out of bed. A few hours later at Sonoma Raceway, the sleep-deprived driver plummeted from the pole to 20th place before fighting back for a finish that actually increased his IndyCar points lead.
Scott Dixon barely noticed the quake, and he calmly racked up another milestone victory while Power frantically stayed in position to take Dixon's place as series champion next weekend.
Dixon surged ahead with three laps left at Sonoma on Sunday, while Power recovered from a mid-race spin to finish 10th heading to the season finale.
Dixon is out of the race to defend his 2013 title after a poor start to the season, but he has won two of IndyCar's last three races. Unlike most of his competitors, he wasn't bothered by the 6.0 earthquake that caused extensive damage in the cities around the raceway, including Napa.
“I think I caught the last maybe five or 10 seconds,” Dixon said. “People were screaming, but I just went back to bed.”
Dixon grabbed his second Sonoma victory and his 35th win overall after leader Graham Rahal was forced to pit for gas with four laps left. Dixon slid inside Mike Conway for the lead and held on for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, moving him into a fifth-place tie with Bobby Unser for career victories on the circuit.
Rahal and Conway both tried to push to the finish on low fuel, but neither made it. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, and Takuma Sato was fourth.
“We know our team finishes strong, but if we could have started the season on the map, we could have done a lot better,” Dixon said. “For me, it's been one of the worst seasons I've had.”
Although Dixon won, Power was under the IndyCar spotlight. The Australian boosted his lead over teammate Helio Castroneves to 51 points heading to the double-points finale at Fontana on Saturday.
Castroneves struggled to an 18th-place finish at Sonoma, and Simon Pagenaud is 81 points back in third after a third-place showing on a wild day in wine country.
Power crossed the finish line ninth after a ferocious last-lap push past Justin Wilson, culminating in a thrilling three-wide sprint with Sebastien Bourdais. But IndyCar recorded Wilson in ninth and Power in 10th because of a local yellow flag for the slowing car of Conway, who crawled across the line.
The finish capped a tumultuous day for Power, who started on the pole in his attempt to win at Sonoma for the fourth time in five years.
“That was a good recovery there,” Power said. “We had such a fast car, but that's the way IndyCar racing goes. We maintained the points lead, and we're going to Fontana. We'll see what we can do, man.”
Sonoma Raceway was unaffected by the earthquake that hit about 10 hours before the race began. The quake left several drivers alarmed, but unharmed — although Team Penske's hotel was evacuated, and James Hinchcliffe slept a few hours in his car.
Castroneves' race was miserable from the opening lap when he sustained damage to a front wing in a multicar collision, forcing him to pit under green for repairs. Power had a huge early lead, but Dixon beat Power out of the pits with a nifty move on the 37th lap.
Power then spun himself on cold tires on the first lap after a restart, barely avoiding a significant wreck and even falling behind Castroneves. Power struggled until his tires were replaced, but he kept pushing and gained enough ground to increase the 40-point lead he took into Sonoma over Castroneves.
Dixon, who hadn't won at Sonoma since 2007, appreciated the history of catching an open-wheel great in career victories.
Checking in from his vacation home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, the 80-year-old Unser had kind words for the New Zealander.
“Scott is a very, very good driver, and records are made to be broken,” Unser said. “He's truly a great driver and drives with a lot of vigor. At his young age, I am sure he'll get another win or lots to pass our 35 IndyCar wins we now share together.”Other SportsSonoma IndyCar