SONOMA, Calif. -- Will Power won the IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, but the championship swung wildly on a pit road incident that will long be debated.
Two of Power's crew members were knocked down during the final pit stop as race leader Scott Dixon hurriedly left his pit box with Power getting service in front of him. The two were locked in a fierce battle for the lead and every second mattered.
The crew member working Power's right rear tire appeared to nonchalantly walk around the back of the car carrying the tire on his outside, and Dixon struck it. By rule, hitting crew members or pit equipment is a penalty, which is why Dixon didn't at first seem alarmed by IndyCar's ruling, which dropped him back to 21st place.
But Dixon, who eventually finished 15th, was dumbfounded when presented the replay during a live television interview.
"He walked toward us on purpose," he said of Power's crew member. "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."
IndyCar Series race director Beaux Barfield said safety is the most important aspect of a pit stop, and he said replays that Dixon hadn't yet seen showed him driving too close to Power's parked car.
Barfield said Dixon used "less than great judgment" and "made it easy" for officials to make that call against him.
"There are a couple of different (video) angles, and clearly (Dixon) crosses right into (Power's) space, and that's where the violation occurred," Barfield said. "He was in (Power's) box for a good half-car length."
Dixon's strategist, Mike Hull, said reaction to the ruling will be split in the court of public opinion, with some siding with Dixon, others with Power's crew.
Either way, Dixon's drive-through penalty dropped him well back before he settled for a 15th-place finish.
Dixon might have taken the series points lead had he won the race, but he's now 39 points behind seventh-place-finishing Helio Castroneves heading to this weekend's street race in Baltimore. That's the first of four races to end the season.
Power didn't initially know what to make of Dixon's troubles because he hadn't seen the replay, but he said plenty of those things have gone wrong for him over the past two seasons. Once the dominant driver in the series with 14 wins in 38 races (36.8 percent), Power 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.
Justin Wilson finished second, with Dario Franchitti third.
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.
Dixon had won three of the four recent races (Charlie Kimball won the other) to surge back into title contention, but now he's got a lot of work to do to claim his third IndyCar championship. Castroneves is seeking his first.
For Castroneves, Sunday was the latest escape of what could have been a disastrous August. He survived a poor qualifying effort at Mid-Ohio to finish sixth, crashed a stock car in Brazil with only minor injuries and bounced off several cars in this race by managed to extend his lead.
After two consecutive caution-free races, IndyCar had an abundance of flying debris in this race, including Sebastian Saavedra's scary crash coming into 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. Kimball's car got struck by Ryan Briscoe's late in the race. Briscoe continued on. Kimball did not seem to have much damage, but as he tried to get going again he ran squarely into Takuma Sato's car.
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