Ryan Briscoe hadn’t celebrated an IndyCar victory in two years, so it’s no wonder he stalled his car during his post-race burnout.
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Will Power and Chevrolet also are leaving wine country with reasons to celebrate — hopefully with a bit more style.
Briscoe got past teammate Power out of a pit stop Sunday and held off the two-time defending Sonoma champion for his seventh career victory, capping a masterful weekend for Chevrolet and Penske Racing.
"We always get excited when we come to this race," Briscoe said. "For whatever reason, Team Penske cars are always strong. Will and I kind of dominated all weekend."
Although Briscoe got the traditional goblet of wine, he wasn’t the only big winner. Chevrolet clinched the manufacturers’ championship in the first season of its return to IndyCar with six of its cars in the top 10 — including another dominant performance by the Penske team, which took three of the top six spots.
"To see them win the manufacturers’ championship in their first year is very rewarding," owner Roger Penske said. "To come from Detroit and have Chevrolet in the race with the engines has been terrific, and certainly the reliability has been excellent."
And even with his frustrating second-place finish, Power took command of the overall championship race when his three closest competitors all had problems. Power began the weekend leading by five points, and increased that to 36 over Ryan Hunter-Reay heading to Baltimore next weekend.
"It’s tough when you lead so many laps and have the quickest car," Power said. "I love to win, but we still got the points and made the most out of the situation that it was. I can’t help but be disappointed, but full congratulations to Ryan."
Briscoe figured he was long overdue for a blemish-free afternoon, and he got it after starting next to pole-sitter Power. Briscoe has never finished outside the top four at Sonoma, and the hazards that have slowed him on other courses in recent months all seemed to befall his competitors this time.
"The last year was the first year that I hadn’t won a race in a while," Briscoe said about 2011. "You’ve just got to keep plugging away, keep pushing hard. We’ve been fast, there’s no doubt — several poles this year and front-row starts — but we had trouble executing, and today we executed flawlessly, thanks to the guys in the pits. There was absolutely no trouble at all. It was a straight free race."
After Power led for most of the race, Briscoe slipped into position for the win when Power got caught in traffic following a scary crash for Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden. Both drivers apparently avoided serious injury when Bourdais lost control on cold tires and slammed Newgarden into a protective barrier, with Newgarden only injuring his left index finger.
Power also lost a few seconds of his lead on a slow pit stop before the crash, but said he blamed the loss on getting held up by drivers who were "dawdling around because they were a lap down or whatever."
He barely failed to win his third straight race in Sonoma after starting his 100th IndyCar race from the pole at the track where he broke his back in 2009, yet Power clinched the Mario Andretti Road Trophy and left Sonoma in prime position to replace three-time defending champion Dario Franchitti as the championship winner.
Hunter-Reay was left fuming after Alex Tagliani spun him out with 10 laps to go, and he finished 18th. Helio Castroneves was penalized after making contact with Scott Dixon on the opening lap and never got back in the hunt, eventually finishing sixth, while Dixon came in 13th after making contact with Hunter-Reay.
Penske still put its three racers in the top six after Power, Briscoe and Castroneves swept the podium in Sonoma last year. Franchitti finished third, and Rubens Barrichello finished a career-best fourth. Graham Rahal was fifth.
IndyCar had a contact-filled afternoon after two straight races run under all green flags. The circuit had gone 226 consecutive laps without a caution until the crash.
Bourdais accepted responsibility for the crash, saying he couldn’t turn his car and picking up debris on his tires at Turn 7, which was modified this year into a difficult hairpin. Bourdais eventually drove through the dirt and slid into Newgarden, who hit a barrier head-on and injured his finger, which will be re-evaluated back in Indianapolis.
"It was a pretty bad hit," Bourdais said. "I don’t know for sure what happened. The car refused to turn. Everything was working out great."
Hunter-Reay had an animated discussion with Tagliani, who was penalized for avoidable contact that left Hunter-Reay stalled on the track.