It’s crunch time for Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup in this year’s Supercars Championship.
In a month’s time, the paddock will be in Bathurst, gearing up for The Great Race, which also serves as this year’s season finale.
But there’s one last doubleheader of sprint races to go before then.
The Bend Motorsport Park was on the calendar, then off the calendar, and is now back on the calendar. Supercars would have been heading to Sandown this week if not for the continuing lockdown restrictions in Melbourne.
For McLaughlin and Whincup though, it doesn’t matter where they race.
All that matters to them is that they’ve got six races until Bathurst.
McLaughlin is in the box seat for this championship, currently holding a 143-point lead over Whincup.
He had pipedreams of getting up to a 300-point lead in order to wrap up the championship going into the Bathurst 1000.
Both McLaughlin and Whincup have said that they will prioritise the championship win over a Bathurst win so you can see why Scott was setting the bar high.
However, while it is still mathematically possible to get a 300-point lead, McLaughlin would need Red Bull Holden to have an absolute shocker for six consecutive races in order to get there.
Sorry DJR Team Penske fans, we all know that’s not going to happen.
But McLaughlin is still in a better situation than Whincup is.
He’s got a sizeable championship lead and a car that is more than capable of beating the Red Bull Holden guys.
Whincup has got a lot to do to close up to McLaughlin, especially when the drivers have five sets of soft compound tyres at their disposal this weekend.
This is in contrast to the allocation of two sets of soft compound tyres and three sets of hard compound tyres, which prevented the top teams from going for glory in every single race, going for consistency across the race weekend instead.
So with less emphasis on tyre management, things are going to fall into place for McLaughlin, in my opinion.
This is a man who has claimed ten pole positions so far this season, more than any other driver.
And, from pole position, McLaughlin can be a sure-fire bet to take home the victory.
It’s only when qualifying hasn’t gone as well that we’ve seen a damage limitation strategy from DJR Team Penske, where McLaughlin is pitted earlier on in the race to get some clean air with the undercut used to make up positions.
When DJR Team Penske can follow a more optimal strategy, McLaughlin is tough to beat.
They’re not invincible though as seen recently in Townsville.
Red Bull Holden have always performed better at street circuits and Townsville was no exception.
We saw in race 24 that when Shane Van Gisbergen is on form, he can support Whincup in beating McLaughlin. He did so in that race by going deeper into the corner while passing McLaughlin on the inside at turn 11, forcing McLaughlin wider, which allowed Whincup to make up a place as well.
If Fabian Coulthard continues to struggle with the setup on his car then he will not be able to provide the same sort of supporting role for McLaughlin.
Even in terms of points gathering, DJR Team Penske should be concerned because there’s a teams championship to win as well.