FONTANA, Calif. -- You couldn't re-imagine the climactic IZOD IndyCar Series season finale any more than you could re-imagine the Battle of Iwo Jima without the Marines planting the flag.
For the eighth consecutive year, the champion was determined in the final race -- 500 high-speed, high-drama miles played out over 3 hours under the lights at Auto Club Speedway.
Heated competition highlighted by 10 different winners through 18 rounds of the most diverse schedule in motorsports was winnowed to a duel between two veteran drivers who left their cordial relationship on pit lane.
Scott Dixon didn't allow starting 17th in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car to rattle his mind-set in the 250-lap race on the D-shaped oval, which is why he carries the nickname the Iceman.
Click it: MAVTV 500 box score || Justin Wilson undergoes evaluation after crash
Helio Castroneves, entering the event 25 points behind, said during the build-up that he "had nothing to lose" and would "go for it," which he did on multiple occasions. He had to win or finish second, along with some misfortune to befall Dixon, to earn his first series title.
The former didn't occur, and though there was a high attrition rate, Dixon did enough to clinch his third series championship in the past decade (in his 220th Indy car start). The margin was a hard-fought 27 points.
“It was a crazy day," said Dixon, who finished fifth for his field-high 10th top five of the season. "We started back. Just huge credit to Team Target. They played everything straight tonight. We had to work on a bit of strategy, we had to work on the car a lot, and then we had an issue with some overheating problems toward the end.
"I still can’t believe we’ve won the championship. So many people to thank and it’s just unbelievable."
Will Power, who lost the championship on this racetrack last year, won his third race of the season by 1.4883 seconds over 2012 race winner Ed Carpenter, who earned his first podium finish of the season. Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan finished third and James Hinchcliffe, who earlier in the day announced his re-signing with Andretti Autosport for 2014, finished fourth.
"That is the most satisfying win of my life," said Power, who had been the series championship runner-up in 2010, 2011 and 2012. "I wanted to do it so badly all year. I knew in the early ovals, I just was kind of conservative because I just wanted to finish every lap. And this time I’m going for it.”
Castroneves finished sixth in the race that had 28 lead changes among 11 drivers.
“Another top 10; that’s been the theme of this year," said Castroneves, whose steady season was marked by one victory and 15 other top 10s. "Unfortunately the one race in Houston threw us off and cost us the championship, but great job Ganassi and great job to Scott. We really fought as hard as we could.
"It was just an awesome race and I think it was great for the fans. I was having a great time and really going for it. There was nothing calm about that race. I’m certainly disappointed, but it’s not the first time. We just need to bounce back and look to 2014. There’s just nothing you can do about it. We did everything we could in our power to make that win happen.
"You just have to understand that we didn’t lose. We fought as hard as we could and finished second position. Ganassi just did a great job."
It is the 10th Indy car championship for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and the ninth with Honda (Dixon won in '03 with Toyota). The team will switch to Chevrolet power for the 2014 season.
Chevrolet earned its second consecutive manufacturer title.