SONOMA, Calif. -- Will Power won the race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, but the IndyCar Series championship swung wildly on a tire carried in the pits and a controversial call by race officials.
It happened on the final stop of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma as race leader Scott Dixon pulled out of his pit box with second-place Power parked in front of him.
Power's right-rear-tire crew member appeared to nonchalantly carry the tire in his left arm, and Dixon struck it. The result was a tumble by the crew member, Travis Law, and a penalty for Dixon.
As Dixon strategist Mike Hull put it, the reaction to the ruling will be split in the court of public opinion, with some siding with Dixon's car and others siding with Power's crew.
But the fact is, the drive-through penalty issued by IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield dropped Dixon from the race lead to 15th place, potentially a 35-point swing.
Instead of gaining significantly on seventh-place-finishing series leader Helio Castroneves, Dixon is 39 points in arrears heading to the season's final four races.
Power went on to win the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, pulling away from Justin Wilson in the closing laps. It was his first IndyCar victory in 26 races, dating to last year's April win in Brazil.
As expected, the Ganassi and Penske teams saw the incident differently, but both were happy that none of the three crew members involved was injured.
Dixon was dumbfounded when presented the replay during a live television interview.
"He walked toward us on purpose," he said of Law. "That's probably the most blatant thing I've seen in a long time. If you watch most pit guys they try to get out of the way of the other guy."
Dixon went on to call IndyCar's decision "pretty annoying."
Barfield said crew member safety is the most important aspect of a pit stop, and he said replays that Dixon hadn't seen showed him driving too close to Power's parked car.
Barfield said Dixon used "less than great judgment" and "made it easy" to make that call against him.
Dixon was bidding to win the fifth consecutive race for Ganassi Racing, which lost Chip Ganassi's father, Floyd, earlier in the week. Floyd Ganassi, who encouraged his son to retire from driving after a horrifying 1986 crash, died Monday. He was 87, and his funeral was Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Dixon had won three of those races to surge back into title contention, but now he's got a lot of work to do with a street race in Baltimore this week followed by three races in October (a doubleheader in Houston followed by an oval-track race in Fontana, Calif.).
Dixon is seeking his third IndyCar championship; Castroneves his first. The Brazilian is proving to be the master of great escapes this month. He had a poor qualifying effort at the Mid-Ohio circuit nearly cost him in that race. He crashed a stock car in Brazil only to have minor injuries and he bounced off several cars in this race.
Power didn't know what to make of Dixon's troubles, but he said plenty of those things have gone wrong for him over the past two seasons. Once the most dominant drivers in the series with 14 wins in 38 races (36.8 percent), he had been 0-for-25 before catching a break here.
"I can't count the number of times that has happened to us in the last two years," he said.
The win was Power's 19th of his IndyCar career.
After two consecutive caution-free races, IndyCar had an abundance of flying debris in this race, including Sebastian Saavedra's fierce-looking crash coming to Turn 9 with four laps left. The Colombian driver hit the outside wall of this road course before sliding into the tire barrier. He was not injured.
Several of the incidents occurred in Turn 7, a hairpin at the end of the facility's drag strip that invites daring inside moves. Charlie Kimball's car got struck by Ryan Briscoe's late in the race. Briscoe continued on and Kimball might not have had much damage, but as Kimball tried to get going again he ran squarely into Takuma Sato.