Simon Pagenaud celebrates in victory lane after winning Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. (Devin Mayo photo)

The order among the top four — Newgarden, Power, Castroneves and Dixon — stayed true until lap 39, when the next cycle of stops began with Castroneves and Dixon hitting pit road.

Newgarden and Power followed on the next circuit, with Pagenaud inheriting the lead again and holding a 25-second margin over Newgarden in third.

Pagenaud went off-course twice in his attempts to increase his gap, finally pitting on lap 48 but cycling back out in third behind Newgarden and Power.

From there, Pagenaud charged from six seconds back, dispatching Power for the runner-up spot before cutting his deficit down to just eight tenths of a second behind Newgarden with 25 to go.

The final round of stops began one circuit later, when Dixon and then Newgarden and Castroneves hit the lane.

Pagenaud stayed out until 21 to go, but once he came off pit lane and established his position over Newgarden, it was an order that remained all the way to the finish.

Despite Pagenaud winning the race, Newgarden’s runner-up finish was enough to secure his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship by 13 points.

In his 100th Indy car start, Newgarden became the third American Indy car champion since the turn of the millenium, as well as the 10th different Indy car champion for team owner Roger Penske.

“This is awesome. Everybody gave me a lot of help today to make sure we got this done and it’s a huge team effort here at (Team) Penske,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s cool to do this. To finally get this done, it’s a dream come true.”

While he had nearly two full laps of push-to-pass remaining over Pagenaud in the final laps, Newgarden’s race strategist — Penske president Tim Cindric — was imploring him to hold serve and “not worry about Simon.”

“It was hard … I was going against my natural instincts,” Newgarden admitted. “I was trying to get Pagenaud there because that’s what I normally do. I try to win the race and do whatever is possible. Tim was telling me to be patient and not to do something stupid. I tried to get him but I also tried to not doing anything dumb for the team.”

“Like I said, this has been a team effort. I am happy for Pagenaud; he had the pace to win today for sure and he’s very deserving of that. This entire group makes this happen. I’m so thankful and happy with everything at Team Penske. Congrats to everyone back home at the factory … because this is an amazing amount of work that goes into this.”

Will Power completed an all-Penske podium in third, while Scott Dixon finished fourth to secure third in the championship standings, behind Newgarden and Pagenaud.

Helio Castroneves completed what may be his final race as a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver with a fifth place finish, falling one position in the final standings to fourth.

Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais and Conor Daly were the rest of the top 10.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season kicks off March 11 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Full race results can be viewed on the next page…

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Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman, 24, is the founder and managing editor of 77 Sports Media and a major contributing writer for SPEED SPORT Magazine. He is studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. and also serves as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.

View all posts by Jacob Seelman

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