Ryan Briscoe wins Grand Prix of Sonoma, Will Power secures championship advantage with two races remaining

SONOMA, CA - AUGUST 26: Ryan Briscoe, driver of the #2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma on August 26, 2012 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Ryan Briscoe won Sunday's GoPro Indy Grand Prix at Sonoma Speedway but it might be remembered as the day Will Power unofficially clinched a stronghold on the 2012 Series Championship.

Power led the most laps, 57, but was cycled out of the lead after the first caution came out on lap 65. Power had just left pit road but was slotted behind teammate Briscoe on the restart. It was a reversal of the first two-thirds of the race, with Power unable to chase down Briscoe, who won his first race of 2012 and first since Texas in 2010.

Power didn't have a lot of reasons to press the issue, or his faulty push-to-pass, as championship rivals Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon were both involved in a lap 1 accident, with Ryan Hunter-Reay suffering a similar fate on lap 75. With second-through-fourth in the championship all suffering problems, Power accepted a runner-up and extended his championship lead to 36 points over Hunter-Reay, who finished 18th.

Sunday was a total success for Team Penske between Briscoe's victory, Power's championship advantage, and the team's one-two finish. Even Castroneves rebounded from his lap 1 accident to finish sixth, considerable improvement given the lack of cautions early in the race.

The caution didn't fly until lap 65, the first time in nearly three races. But once they fell, they negated pretty impressive efforts by Sebastian Bourdais, Josef Newgarden and Alex Tagliani.

Dario Franchitti, Rubens Barrichello, Graham Rahal, Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, JR Hildebrand, Tagliani, and Tony Kanaan rounded-out the top-10.

More on Team Penske's day, the championship battle, and a complete finishing order can be found after the jump.

Ryan Briscoe really needed this win for validation if nothing else. He's been largely overshadowed by his Penske teammates entering a contract year and just hasn't been the same since losing the 2009 Series Championship. He has options, with the latest rumors suggesting that Briscoe could spearhead Penske's new sports car program, with an annual entry into the Indianapolis 500.

But Sunday served as a reminder that Briscoe can still get it done on a weekly basis in an open-wheel race car. Beyond that, Briscoe is a gentleman in the paddock and an excellent spokesman for all of Penske's marketing projects. Losing him would be a major blow to a sport looking to retain momentum entering the next few seasons.

Here's hoping they work something out.

His teammate, Power, needed a day like Sunday to build a championship cushion leading into the final two races of the season. Everyone knows that Power will be a threat at Baltimore but team No. 12 has to be concerned about the 500-mile World Championship at Auto Club Speedway. Recent debacles at Kentucky have thrown into doubt Power's luck and ability to win on the high banks.

He might need the buffer.

Did Sonoma all but secure the championship for Will Power or is the title hunt still undecided? Answer this question and discuss your favorite topics from Sunday's race in the comments section below.

Onto the Streets of Baltimore...

Race Results

2012 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Pos Driver Diff. Gap LL BL# BL LSP OSR Start Status
1 Ryan Briscoe - - 1:20.0612 3 1:19.6693 20 5 2
2 Will Power 0.4408 0.4408 1:19.6173 7 1:19.3676 21 43 1
3 Dario Franchitti 1.0497 0.6089 1:19.5187 81 1:19.4047 24 0 6
4 Rubens Barrichello 8.8529 7.8032 1:20.7281 81 1:20.4001 22 9 11
5 Graham Rahal 9.4667 0.6138 1:20.9742 43 1:20.2787 23 9 13
6 Helio Castroneves 11.2575 1.7908 1:21.0581 2 1:20.4706 23 0 4
7 Simon Pagenaud 12.3087 1.0512 1:21.0723 31 1:20.3840 23 29 9
8 JR Hildebrand 22.8121 10.5034 1:21.4478 60 1:20.5839 21 8 15
9 Alex Tagliani 39.6868 16.8747 1:22.9754 10 1:20.5483 7 45 8
10 Tony Kanaan 1 LAPS 1 LAPS 1:21.3885 5 1:20.6288 13 0 16
11 Justin Wilson 1 LAPS 1.2003 1:21.1970 41 1:20.3718 13 19 20
12 James Jakes 1 LAPS 1.0788 1:21.1324 22 1:20.6461 13 30 24
13 Scott Dixon 1 LAPS 0.5456 1:21.2062 17 1:19.7634 9 39 5
14 Mike Conway 1 LAPS 4.2997 1:20.8761 83 1:20.6044 13 4 14
15 Sebastian Saavedra 1 LAPS 2.3024 1:22.1947 48 1:20.3785 13 29 23
16 EJ Viso 1 LAPS 2.7274 1:22.1833 80 1:20.5125 13 2 17
17 Simona De Silvestro 1 LAPS 2.2855 1:22.7458 83 1:21.8605 13 41 27
18 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1 LAPS 0.6289 1:19.6112 82 1:19.1848 6 27 7
19 Oriol Servia 1 LAPS 3.5732 1:20.8357 81 1:20.3764 2 27 18
20 Ed Carpenter 1 LAPS 3.1645 1:24.1187 38 1:21.9283 13 90 25
21 Charlie Kimball 3 LAPS 2 LAPS 1:21.3828 80 1:20.7865 8 21 21
22 Sebastien Bourdais 22 LAPS 18 LAPS 1:45.1217 6 1:20.2166 0 0 3 Contact
23 Josef Newgarden 23 LAPS 1 LAPS 1:27.5085 22 1:20.8039 1 0 22 Contact
24 Katherine Legge 37 LAPS 14 LAPS 5:41.1815 27 1:21.1415 0 72 19 Mechanical
25 Marco Andretti 39 LAPS 2 LAPS 4:15.5268 24 1:20.5811 0 0 12 Mechanical
26 James Hinchcliffe 50 LAPS 11 LAPS 11:31.5360 5 1:21.2440 0 63 10 Mechanical
27 Takuma Sato 83 LAPS 33 LAPS 1:25.1128 2 1:25.1128 2 0 26 Off Course

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