In Vehicle Safety Communications (VSC) based on IEEE 802.11p, vehicles establish a mutual awareness of their presence by periodically broadcasting status messages, aka beacons. If vehicle density is high and beaconing is not regulated, the channel can become congested, impairing reception performance and safety benefit. As a countermeasure, a number of congestion control approaches have been suggested, adapting transmit (Tx) power, beacon generation rate (Tx rate), or both. However, in general these approaches did not show what the optimal outcome for congestion control would be and how and why their solution would lead to the desired result. In this work, we analyze answers to the first question and provide a methodology for the second. We systematically derive a joint power/rate control strategy for VSC which optimizes reception performance for a targeted sender-receiver distance. We start by laying out why we consider average (or percentile of) packet Inter-Reception Time (IRT) at the targeted awareness distance to be a suitable metric for our purpose. Then, we analyze a wide range of Tx parameters to identify which combinations ... mehroptimize reception in a homogeneous scenario. We show that for each sender-receiver distance, there is an optimal Tx power which, unlike the corresponding Tx rate, is independent of node density. In addition, we analyze the Pareto optimal Tx parameter combinations for two groups of vehicles with different target distances adapting at the same time. We show that the majority of these combinations use the same Tx power as identified in the homogeneous case. We conclude that a simple and efficient strategy to optimize reception performance is to select Tx power w.r.t. the targeted distance and to adapt Tx rate w.r.t. channel load.