Jamie Whincup extends title lead with vital Pukekohe win
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Six-time series champ Jamie Whincup has won the Sunday race at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint to extend his championship lead over Kiwi Scott McLaughlin to 30 points.
The Shell V-Power Ford driver finished second but had no challenge for Whincup on Sunday, who led from start to finish to take a big step towards a seventh championship.
Cam Waters finished third, recovering from a first lap mistake that saw both of his Prodrive Racing Ford teammates Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom spin and fall to the back of the pack.
Veteran Craig Lowndes was fourth while Kiwi Fabian Coulthard finished fifth a day after his Saturday race finished upside down and his crew spent the night repairing his car.
Saturday race winner Shane van Gisbergen ruined his race when he drilled Tim Slade in the entry to the pits - the Kiwi carrying too much speed to pull up in time. He sat in the lane for a number of laps but got out to register as a finisher and pick some points to help in the team's championship.
"We just had to put our head down and get through a hard 70 laps," Whincup said. "I was teammates with JR [Richards] back in 2005 so we were good mates and we got up to no good together for a couple of years and this is a special moment - one of the biggest accolades of the year."
Knowing that it is a straight head-to-head battle with McLaughlin for the title, Whincup is confident heading to the deciding round.
"I am happy that we have given ourselves the opportunity but it is going to come down to three weeks time and who digs deep and does the best job," he said. "We will prepare as well as we can and go there with all eyes open on a brand new street circuit and hopefully both cars are reliable and quick and we can scrap it out."
McLaughlin is relishing being in the title fight so late in the season.
"It is the first time in my career that I am able to have a go at the Supercars championship," the 24-year-old said. "It is a bit of a dream come true but hopefully I tick another box and win the thing.
"Jamie and the team did a fantastic job today - they had a really quick car. We need to scratch our heads and look at it but overall it was a pretty decent weekend with two podiums."
Whincup made a terrific start from pole and countered McLaughlin's attempt at under-cutting him at the first pit stop.
The race between the two was extremely close at the second stop as Whincup just got by the New Zealander at turn one on his exit from the pits. That was essentially the race as the Red Bull Holden slowly pulled away and eased to victory.
The opening lap saw an incident involving a number of cars - started off by Waters making contact with Winterbottom, who got pushed into Mostert, turning both of them. Other cars were caught up as well, including James Courtney, who made it back to the pits but no further.
Whincup pipped McLaughlin for the weekend victory by just three points.
The series will go to Newcastle in three weeks with a shootout between the two on a new track that no-one has raced on before.
A crowd of 105,208 turned up over the weekend to watch - down by just over 1000 people from last year.
Jamie Whincup 2850
Scott McLaughlin -30
Fabian Coulthard -176
Chaz Mostert -264
Shane van Gisbergen -276