Helio Castroneves, right, congratulates Scott Dixon, left, after his… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)
Scott Dixon won his third IndyCar championship Saturday night in a race that came down to mere survival.
As Team Penske's Will Power won the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Dixon finished fifth to win the title by 27 points over Power teammate Helio Castroneves.
Dixon needed only to finish fifth or better in the MAVTV 500 to clinch the Izod IndyCar series championship.
Castroneves finished sixth, one lap down to the leaders.
But at least those two drivers saw the checkered flag. Due to crashes and mechanical problems, only eight cars managed to finish the 500-mile race, which began with a 25-car field.
"It was a crazy day," said Dixon, a driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who also won the title in 2003 and 2008.
"I still can't believe that we've actually won the championship," the 33-year-old New Zealander said. "I just means so much."
Castroneves, who came into the race trailing Dixon by 25 points, said, "We fought hard. Unfortunately, one weekend for us went bad and that cost us the championship."
When there were three races remaining in the season, Castroneves, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, looked poised to capture the title.
But the 38-year-old Brazilian found disaster at a Oct. 5-6 doubleheader on the streets of Houston, where he suffered mechanical problems in both races and finished 18th and 23rd, respectively.
Dixon, meanwhile, won the first Houston race and finished second in the second race.
The result: After arriving in Houston with a 49-point lead over Dixon, Castroneves found himself 25 points behind Dixon when he came to Fontana.
Power's victory Saturday night provided redemption for the Australian, who came to Fontana a year ago with the point lead only to crash early in the 250-lap race. That enabled Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the title by only three points.
"It's the most satisfying win of my life," said Power, who has three victories this year and 21 in his IndyCar career. "I wanted to do it so badly all year."
Ed Carpenter, who won the race last year, finished second, and this year's Indy 500 winner, Tony Kanaan, was third. James Hinchcliffe was fourth.
Dixon, who started 17th, appeared to have the title in hand for most of the race, although his car developed an overheating problem near the end.
But Castroneves had his own problems. With about 40 laps left, he entered the pits when they were closed, incurring a penalty that dropped him one lap down to the leaders. Later, he had a broken front wing that required repairs.
That gave Dixon and his team "a bit of a window for [dealing with] our overheating issue" by having Dixon pit a couple of times to fix the problem, Dixon said.
There were several incidents. Carlos Munoz, a 21-year-old rookie from Colombia who finished second in this year's Indianapolis 500, had climbed to third before he spun and crashed on Lap 101.
Ten laps later, several drivers were collected in a crash after Justin Wilson lost control and spun. The others included Oriol Servia, Josef Newgarden, Simona De Silvestro and rookie Tristan Vautier.
There were 28 lead changes among 11 drivers.
Earlier in the day in the sport's second-level series, Firestone Indy Lights, Carlos Munez edged Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam at Auto Club Speedway to win the 50-lap Lefty's Kids Club 100. But Karam won the series championship.