FONTANA, Calif. -- A grid penalty for an engine change following qualifications for the Lefty's Kids Club 100 didn't faze Sage Karam, who developed a plan for the 50-lap season finale on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway and stuck with it.
Patience aided the 18 year old from Nazareth, Pa., who clinched the Firestone Indy Lights championship with a third-place finish to deliver the seventh series title for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He's the eighth rookie to win the championship.
Carlos Munoz, driving the No. 26 Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport, won his fourth race of the season, holding off Gabby Chaves by .9966 of a second. Karam was 3.7 seconds behind.
Click it: Lefty's Kids Club 100 box score
Once Karam, who started at the rear of the field, moved to third early in race on the wide racing surface, he settled in to collect the points necessary to secure the title by 11 points over his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate. Karam entered the race with a 16-point advantage.
"I was crying on that last lap, just to know the dream is almost in reach and to be in the IndyCar Series racing with my heroes," Karam said after exiting the No. 8 car. “This season started out OK and it went really bad in the middle. We bounced back somehow and we’re champions now.
"The team just put together an awesome car week-in, week-out. I can’t thank them enough. The Comfort Revolution car is always fast, every week. I don’t know what else to say; I’m just so excited."
It was the first season in Firestone Indy Lights for Karam, who placed one spot behind Chaves in the 2012 Star Mazda Championship. He posted consecutive victories at the Milwaukee and Iowa ovals and regained the points lead outright with a third place Sept. 1 at Baltimore. A victory from the pole Oct. 6 at Houston, combined with Chaves' runner-up finish and Munoz's 12th place, gave Karam the 16-point advantage entering the finale.
Click it: Listen to the post-race news conference
"Sam Schmidt runs an awesome operation with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Mr. (Ric) Peterson. They’ve put together an awesome organization and I love being there. I’m pretty sure when were talking about next year Sam is going to be the first guy we talk to."
Chaves, 20, of Weston, Fla., earned a victory at Mid-Ohio in early August and placed in the top five in 11 of the 12 races. He closed the season with seven consecutive podium finishes.
“It’s disappointing. We fight with our hearts every time and sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. Today wasn’t my way," Chaves said. "I did everything that I could. I knew I had to lead the most laps and tried to go around Carlos many times. I couldn’t do it.
"Great job to the team, to Sam (Schmidt) and thank you to everyone who has helped me. My engineer Chris (Finch), all the mechanics and the whole crew. Congrats to them for the championship and we’ll see what comes next. Definitely keep pushing hard because it’s not over. We lost this championship, but there’s still plenty to come.”
With Jack Hawksworth entering pit lane midway through the race with an issue in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car and placing ninth, Munoz moved to third in the standings. Zach Veach, the Sunoco Pole Award winner who earlier in the day re-signed with Andretti Autosport for 2014, finished fourth in the race.
"There’s no better way to finish (the season) than to win," said Munoz, who also won the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights race at Auto Club Speedway. "I was a little bit sad because I couldn’t get the championship, which was my main goal this year (the 12th place at Houston eliminated him from contention).
"After that second place at the Indy 500, I think was the moment of my career. I have to thank my team, Andretti Autosport, all my mechanics. I’ve been together with them for two years. Hopefully it’s time to move up and I will try to do that. I have to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport."