It is double celebrations for Jamie Whincup in Darwin as the Red Bull Racing pilot snared victory in Race 15 of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship and in doing so claimed the Triple Crown on countback after finishing dead even with Fabian Coulthard on round points.
Starting second, Whincup claimed the lead in the pitstop phases after championship leader Scott McLaughlin and his DJR Team Penske crew fell victim to the undercut.
Whincup now becomes only the second driver to raise the Triple Crown, leaving Coulthard to further rue over his Race 14 mistake which unquestionably cost him the round win.
For the first time since its inauguration in 2006, the Triple Crown was awarded to the overall round winner for the driver who scored the most points combined over all three races.
The theme of the weekend had been drivers starting second on the clean side of the ride stealing the lead into Turn 1. However, a sprightly second phase by pole-sitter McLaughlin gave the defending champion a healthy advantage over Whincup to control the field as the charged towards the opening turn.
The leading duo then darted away from the field on their worn soft tyres as a struggling Chaz Mostert desperately clung onto the final podium position, surviving a forceful bump by the sister Red Bull of Shane Van Gisbergen.
Lap Five brought about a flurry of action in the pitlane with Whincup the first in the queue to take his compulsory pitstop but only narrowly avoided a repeat of Saturday’s incident as Red Bull almost released their driver into the path of Coulthard. The Kiwi vented his frustration after the race, hinting at a likely protest as the impedment cost him a spot to Mostert who stopped on the same lap.
The clean air and subsequent undercut by Whincup paid dividends and one lap later when McLaughlin dove into the pitlane for a new set of boots, the Red Bull pilot had stolen the effective race lead.
While the battle for the lead heated up as McLaughlin latched onto the rear wing of Whincup, further back his Shell V-Power stablemate Coulthard had found himself in a strong position to clinch the overall round win but had to hunt down Mostert if he was to etch his name on the trophy.
Another key player in the feud for the Triple Crown, Anton de Pasquale, was a long way down in 23rd after the opening run of pitstops had played themselves out. The Penrite Racing team had used the best of their soft tyres in yesterday’s surprise victory and thus was forced to run heavily worn softs in the final stint as the No.99 Commodore was losing time hand over fist to those rivals ahead of him.
The margin between Whincup and McLaughlin flirted around half-a-second as the collected defence of the seven-time series champion was enough to keep the Kiwi at bay at the midway point. Meanwhile, the trio of Mark Winterbottom, Jake Smith and Scott Pye all preserved their tyres far longer than anyone else in the field.
Winterbottom was the last car in the 24-strong field to make its mandatory pitstop, the Irwin Tools Racing crew happy to leave their man out until Lap 26 when he relinquished the lead back to Whincup. Frosty rejoined back in eighth and with fresh tyres was able to move himself into seventh by the chequered flag.
Along with reclaiming the race lead, Whincup also levelled himself with Coulthard on round points but placing himself in pole position to win on countback.
It centred enormous pressure on the Kiwi to seek way past Mostert to secure the Triple Crown, the margin as low as four-tenths at one stage. But try as he might, Coulthard could not muster a move on the Walkinshaw Andretti Commodore to trail home in fifth.
Whincup sailed to a relatively undisputed victory, 2.1s ahead of McLaughlin at the line while Van Gisbergen had a lonely race to round off the podium despite a minor scare at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap threatened to undo his hard work.
Supercars will return to Hidden Valley next weekend for the second leg of the Darwin doubleheader and the second in a string of four consecutive race weekends.