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U-S-A! Ryan Hunter-Reay charges to first IndyCar title

9.16.2012 (Via USA TODAY Sports) – The reality of Ryan Hunter-Reay's championship can be measured by blinks of an eye. One less blink, and he would have been hit by Will Power's spinning car.

As it turned out, he got an extra blink, missed Power's car by inches and survived 194 more laps of searing drama Saturday to win the Izod IndyCar Series championship by finishing fourth in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway.

Power's left front tire got caught in a seam in the asphalt on lap 56 of the 250-lap race. At the time, he was leading Hunter-Reay. When Power's car pitched upward into the wall, it barely missed the back of Hunter-Reay's car. At that point, the championship looked promising, but it wasn't certain until the very final lap.

That's when Takuma Sato crashed while Hunter-Reay was running fourth, securing Hunter-Reay's first IndyCar championship by three points over Power.

"This is a dream come true," Hunter-Reay said. "This is what I've wanted since I was 6 years old. It hasn't all sank in yet, but my gosh."

While Hunter-Reay fought back celebratory tears, Power endured his third consecutive season of finishing second in the final standings.

"I've done it for two years in a row, so I've kind of learned how to cope with it," Power said. "I think the way it's worked out in the last couple of years is what's going to happen is going to happen. Then I still look at tonight and think I definitely could have prevented that one.

"No use in dwelling on it. Racing is tough. IndyCar in particular is tough. It's easy to go and point fingers and all that as to why we didn't win, but at the end of the day, Hunterâ??Reay did a very solid job. He won more races than anyone. Won on ovals and road courses, and he's definitely a deserving champion. There is no question."

He had to endure more than two hours of theatrics after Power's crash to become champion. First, Power returned to the track and a jerry-rigged, battered car to run 12 laps and gain one position,moving from 25th to 24th, which forced Hunter-Reay to finish at least fifth, not sixth, to claim the title.

"We knew exactly what they were doing," said Michael Andretti, Hunter-Reay's team owner. "They were trying to get one spot past (E.J.) Viso so we would have to finish one spot further up. That's exactly what they did. At the time we thought, 'Oh man, this is going to be really tough.' But we got it done."

As Hunter-Reay struggled in the middle of the race — lumbering in seventh, eighth and ninth place — it appeared as if the championship might be slipping from his grasp. Gradually, though, he began to gain positions. When Alex Tagliani crashed on lap 228, Hunter-Reay found himself in fifth.

"I was on the edge the entire time just trying to hold on to the car," Hunter-Reay said. "Nothing could be easy. And then the red flag came out, and I had to sit there and think about it some more while we were in a good rhythm. The relief is coming off, and I'm just taking it all in. This is what racing is about. This is what sports are all about."

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