Kanaan leads Ganassi 1-2 to end 2014 on a high note (VIDEO)

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FONTANA, Calif. – Since IndyCar returned for the de facto second half of its season at Houston in late June, Tony Kanaan and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew had been bursting at the seams to break through to win.

Kanaan nearly podiumed there before being taken out under yellow, led 325 laps between Pocono and Iowa, posted a double podium at Toronto, and another third at Milwaukee.

So the winning potential for the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet this year has been obvious, but until Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway, had not been realized.

Finally, then, was the word best used to describe Kanaan, who capped off the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season with his first win since the 2013 Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a long time coming. For Target, with the 25-year anniversary. Finally,” Kanaan told NBCSN in victory lane.

“We had a team meeting this aftrernoon. If you win this afternoon you get to brag for seven months. At Chip Ganassi Racing, the winner gets your picture on the wall, and I finally get one now.”

For Kanaan, taking over the car previously driven by Dario Franchitti, it was important to secure at least one victory.

“It’s very emotional,” he said. “This 10 car has a lot of history so I didn’t want to go winless. I told Dario I dedicate it for him.”

Kanaan’s strong second half brought him up to seventh in the final points standings, and second in the Ganassi quartet.

Teammate Scott Dixon almost quietly ran to second in the race, and suddenly made it to third in the championship. He posted 11 top-five finishes this season.

With Dixon having won at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, Ganassi went from no wins in the first 14 races of 2014 to three in the last four. Kanaan hailed the team’s forward momentum through the tail end of the season.

“We’re extremely confident as a unit. The team showed how quick we can turn. Now we’ll have the team spirit really good through winter, and I have seven months on top,” Kanaan said in the post-race press conference.

The win wasn’t the only bit of news revealed at the presser – Tony and wife Lauren Bohlander Kanaan confirmed Lauren will be expecting a child in late January.

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”