Will Power, who had his championship dreams destroyed twice before when he crashed out of season-ending races, was overcome with emotion as he finally claimed his first IndyCar Series crown.
"It is 15 years of hard work. I was crying when I crossed the finish line," said Power, who raced strategically to take the crown with a ninth-place finish in Saturday's season-finale at the Auto Club Speedway track.
It was enough to give the Australian a 62-point victory over runner-up Helio Castroneves. Power had entered the 18th race of the season with a 51 point lead over his Team Penske teammate.
Tony Kanaan won Saturday's 250-lap race to earn his first win since last year's Indianapolis 500.
The ninth place finish was all the 33-year-old Power would need as he was able to avoid the mishaps that destroyed his earlier attempts to maintain the overall points lead going into the last race of the season.
Power, of Toowoomba, in eastern Australia, entered the final event in 2010 and 2012 as the championship points leader but failed to finish either race. Power was also the championship runner-up in 2011 and finished fourth last year.
"I am so exhausted," he said. "My hands are numb from holding onto the wheel so tight. I can't believe I won it.
"It is surreal. It is just a fantastic way to finish the season."
Power patiently made his way through the field and grabbed the lead for the first time on lap 189, following a restart. Kanaan passed him eight laps later then seized command of the race.
Power qualified 21st in the 22-car field for this race after struggling in Friday's qualifying session at the two-mile oval. He won last year's season-ending Fontana race.
"The last 14 days been the worst of my life, not sleeping, just stressing. You never think it can happen until it happens."
Power climbed onto the winner's podium carrying a giant Australian flag. He said he made a decision to become a race car driver over a decade ago.
- '15 years hard work' -
"I am proud to represent Australia and I am proud to represent Toowoomba," he said. "I started taking racing seriously in 2000. That is just 15 years of hard work."
Castroneves started from the pole and finished 14th. This is the fourth time in his career he has finished second in the overall points race.
"It is great. It was a special year," Castroneves said. "I was pushing hard. The only way for us to get ahead was through the pits.
"Will you are the champ man. Good job."
Former series champ Kanaan won the race over last year's champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand. Kanaan was the 11th different winner this season. Ed Carpenter, who was runner-up in Fontana last year, rounded out the top three.
"It has been a long time coming," Kanaan said. "We had a team meeting this afternoon and (team owner) Chip Ganassi said 'if you win, you can brag about it for seven months.'
"We have a tradition in the shop where winner gets a picture on the wall, so I got one."
Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin was unable to race Saturday after suffering head and chest injuries in a scary crash during practice the night before.
Doctors upgraded Aleshin's condition to stable on Saturday afternoon, but they gave no timetable for his release from the southern California hospital.