FONTANA, Calif. (AP) - Ryan Hunter-Reay opened the IndyCar season determined to take his career to another level.

He had a chance to race for the season-opening win at St. Pete, where a victory would have given him a nice little bump to start things. But when fuel became an issue, and his crew implored him to save gas over the closing laps, he backed off and settled for a third-place finish.

It's not easy to ask a driver, especially one who opened the season with all of three IndyCar victories, not to chase the checkered flag. Hunter-Reay willingly did it, though, because he'd changed his thinking and made the big picture - collecting every point possible - his focus.

It paid off Saturday night when Hunter-Reay capped a career year with his first championship at a major racing level. In finishing fourth, he beat Will Power by three points for the IndyCar title, the first for an American since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.

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