San Francisco (AFP) - Josef Newgarden captured the IndyCar series championship for the second time in three seasons on Sunday while fellow American Colton Herta won the campaign-ending Grand Prix of Monterey.
Teen rookie Herta held off runner-up Will Power of Australia to take the 90-lap feature over the hilly 2.258-mile Laguna Seca road course in Northern California while Newgarden placed eighth to claim the crown.
"I'm so happy. I was crying that whole (last) lap. I'm so glad it's over," a tearful Newgarden said after climbing out of his car.
"It has been a lot this year. I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm just really thankful."
Newgarden finished on 641 points to defeat France's Simon Pagenaud by 25 points with American Alexander Rossi third, 33 adrift, and 2018 champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand in fourth, 63 points behind Newgarden.
While Newgarden owned a solid overall lead, all four top points finishers had a chance at the title when the event began, forcing Newgarden to be conservative to satisfy his team race strategists.
"They called a great race and I was just trying to be as smart as I could be," Newgarden said. "I didn't want to throw it away after all the work we had done all season."
Pagenaud, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, needed a victory and Newgarden finishing fifth or worse and while the 2016 IndyCar champion made a run late, he could not overtake third-place Dixon -- failing in pass attempts on laps 82 and 85 -- and settled for fourth in the race.
"I knew if I unlocked Dixon, I had a chance in the championship," Pagenaud said. "I was using up my tires. He didn't make it easy that's for sure."
"Josef has been the most consistent all season long. He deserves it. He's a great racer.
"I got the Indy 500. I can't complain. I'm quite proud. We'll see what we can do next year but it's going to be hard to top."
Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner who was sixth in the race, never seriously threatened for the win he needed.
"We just weren't good enough. We need to regroup and work in this off-season," Rossi said. "It's a 17-race championship. Josef was better than us all year. At the end you have to admit the best guy won."
Dixon, whose longshot title bid would have required Newgarden finish 23rd, was philosophical about his day and year.
"To come up only 60 points back when we've had so many DNFs (did not finishes) and mechanical failures bodes well," Dixon said. "It was definitely a tough race. To finish on the podium feels great."
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It felt even better for 19-year-old pole-sitter Herta to take the victory, the second of his first IndyCar season after a victory at Austin, Texas, made him IndyCar's youngest-ever winner.
"Everything just went so smooth today," Herta said. "It's so cool."
Swedish newcomer Felix Rosenqvist was fifth in the race to edge Herta for the IndyCar Rookie of the Year award.
Newgarden won a season-high four races, taking the opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, and another street win in Detroit as well as oval victories at Texas and Iowa.
Herta grabbed the lead at the start and surrendered it only for pit stops while Dixon took second and Pagenaud was third at the midpoint of the race after Newgarden fell back to eighth.
Had Pagenaud moved into second and Newgarden slipped to ninth, the Frenchman could have claimed the crown also, but Pagenaud could never grab second and Newgarden never slipped into the danger zone.