Heading to a restart with four laps remaining in Friday's 2008 Atlantic Championship season finale at Road Atlanta, Finnish rookie Markus Niemela was sitting second in both the race and championship standings – but late drama saw him steal the race win and the championship crown.
American rookie Dane Cameron had led from the race's standing start, while another American rookie, Jonathan Summerton was sitting third in the race standings and first in the championship by one point over Niemela. Jonathan Bomarito, who came into the race with a seven-point lead over Summerton and a ten-point advantage over Niemela, saw his championship hopes dashed when he was forced to retire due to a mechanical problem after just ten laps of what would be a 35-lap event.
Niemela got an outstanding run in his #8 Mr. Jones Bar & Kitchen/Rauma Town/Turku Karting machine from Brooks Associates Racing heading into turn one on the final restart and shot to the inside to take the lead away from Cameron. Just behind him, Canadian Kevin Lacroix made a similar move on Summerton to take third away and a few seconds later, both the race and the championship were decided.
In a last-ditch effort to preserve the championship, Summerton made contact with Cameron - who had fallen to third behind both Niemela and Lacroix - damaging both cars and sending them off course.
The contact brought out a full-course caution, allowing Niemela to slowly cruise to the championship with his second consecutive victory. It was Niemela's third consecutive podium result and was his fifth podium of the season overall. It was also Niemela's tenth result of seventh or better.
Niemela took the championship by a margin of 245 points to 228 points over Bomarito, and Summerton was third with 224 points. Niemela also took series Rookie of the Year honours over Summerton, becoming the first rookie to win the overall championship since Simon Pagenaud in 2006. He is the first driver from Finland to win the Atlantic title in the series' 35 years and it was also the first Atlantic title for Brooks Associates Racing, which completed its 14th season in the series.
“I've been racing for 19 years, and I'm 24-years-old now, and I've been kind of looking for one race where I don't have to explain anything,” Niemela said. “I can just go after the race and say, 'I won the race and I won the championship.' I don't have to make any excuses or explain anything I did. This is just sweet and simple, really. I think the car was good, I was good, and everything just fell in the right place.
“I knew during the race what I had to do. I saw Summerton behind me all the time and I knew we were going to have to have somebody in between us for me to be him in the championship points. My team was telling me all the time that JR Hildebrand was coming and that he was fast, and he might be the guy to go between us. Dane Cameron was a little bit further up in the front at that point. Then, the Safety Car came, which was lucky for me.
“At that point, I asked on the radio, 'Where is Bomarito?' The team told me that he's not there anymore. He's out. They said, 'You have to pass Cameron, because Hildebrand is out.' He was the fastest car to challenge, so I just went for it in the first corner after the restart. It was a really good restart. I was past Dane already before the corner, actually, and I don't know what happened. I think I won.”