The spotlight this weekend at Auto Club Speedway was firmly on the Verizon IndyCar Series championship shoot-out between Penske team mates Will Power and Helio Castroneves; but right from the start of the MAVTV 500 season finale it was clear that the Chip Ganassi Racing pair of Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were intend on gatecrashing the party and had their sights set on the win.

"We had nothing to lose," agreed Kanaan. "We realised, me and Scott, we couldn't win the championship. We sat down in the team meeting and said what's the best we can do? I think it was Scott to finish third and me to finish sixth in the championship. But the best thing to do is winning races.

"[Will and Helio] got the attention that they deserved because they were going for the championship," he continued. "Why are people going to worry about me or Scott? Obviously that was the big news, but they had a lot of pressure on their plate. We just surprised everybody and won the race."

Kanaan had made it look easy, but he said that the view from the cockpit had been very different.

"My car wasn't like perfect. I mean, race car drivers are never happy with the race cars, but I remember at one point I was complaining on the radio - they said I was as fast as everybody else," he recalled. "So your perception sometimes it's not what it seems.

"I think the quality of the drivers and the quality of the equipment that we have, it's making the racing seem extremely tight," he mused. "Compared to last year, we had five cars in the lead lap and nine cars that finished the race, I think. The quality of the field is much higher, so it's really hard.

"Nowadays you have to finish a race," he said. "Before you could afford to make a little mistake and still finish in the top 10, but nowadays if you don't finish the race like you're not on the top of your game you're going to finish 22nd."

Kanaan really was at the top of his game on Saturday night and duly secured his first race win since the 2013 Indianapolis 500, and his first victory for Chip Ganassi Racing since moving to the team over the off-season. Getting that first win meant the world to him, Kanaan revealed.

"It's a big pressure in that #10 car to give Chip and Target the win," he said. "This #10 car has a lot of history and I didn't want to go winless because of the tradition," he added, revealing the pressure he felt to deliver his race victory for the team before the year was out.

"It's a car that has won a lot of races in the past. We finally did it."

He'd taken over the race seat at the start of 2014 after its previous highly successful incumbent, Dario Franchitti, was forced to retire from the sport following a huge crash at Houston at the end of the previous season. Kanaan didn't want to let his good friend down by not delivering the goods.

"I told Dario this win I dedicate to him. If it wasn't for him, these guys and Chip, Dario was forced to retire, I wouldn't be driving this car right now," he pointed out. "He went through a tough time. He's a guy that's extremely healthy, extremely capable to still drive a race car and he was forced to retire.

"I was grateful for what he's done for me this year, being with the time we spent," he added. "And I said I hope you feel proud of this. I know you're not driving it, but you won the race as well."

Leaving his first race win until the season finale has one big advantage, as team owner Chip Ganassi had already pointed out to Kanaan earlier in the day. "We had a team meeting this afternoon and Chip said, 'If you win the last race, you get to brag about it for seven months,'" revealed Kanaan. "I went ahead and did it!"

"I'm really proud of this," he said, looking forward to the rest of the weekend of celebrations. "It is going to be a hell of a night!"

More than simple bragging rights, the season finale win also sets up the team to carry through the momentum in the off-season and into preparations for next season, where Kanaan hopes and expects to be firmly in the championship title race after what had been a relatively disappointing 2014 for the team.

"I just think it shows the team potential," agreed Kanaan. "We turned the situation around. The team got a grip on what we needed it to do. It is good momentum. Next year is a whole new ball game with the aero kits and stuff.

"We have a lot of work to do, but it's really good to win the season on a high note, the whole team spirit is going to be good through the winter.

"We have a great team here, a great group of guys," he added. "This is how a team works. When we struggled, when people think we are nowhere, we go out and win three races this year and six podiums. It is a great team effort!"

While Kanaan has a seven-month break from IndyCar race duties before the first event of 2015 at St Petersburg next March, he revealed on Saturday that he's still got a busy off-season in store away from the track as his wife Lauren is expecting the couple's first child.

"January 23rd, hopefully we'll have a baby," he told the post-race press conference, adding that he didn't know yet whether it was a boy or a girl. "We're not going to find out, I think."