Holden star Jamie Whincup will start Sunday’s Sandown 500 from pole position while back-to-back Supercars titles are all but assured for Ford star Scott McLaughlin.
Whincup claimed his fourth pole for the 161-lap endurance race after leading Saturday’s 60km sprint race from start to finish.
“The car was good and poles have been few and far between this year, so we’ll certainly take this one,” Whincup said.
While the Red Bull Holden Racing Team ace was enjoying a trouble-free run, his stablemate Shane Van Gisbergen had a day to forget.
McLaughlin’s closest rival for the title tangled with Penrite Racing’s Anton De Pasquale on the opening lap, before limping back to pit lane with damaged steering and failing to finish.
His DNF and McLaughlin’s fifth placing means the DJR Team Penske star heads into Sunday’s race holding a mammoth 500-point championship lead.
If that margin is 300 points or more after Sunday’s race, McLaughlin will have secured the 2019 championship.
Van Gisbergen’s day of woe means he’ll start from the back of the grid.
Even if Van Gisbergen makes a miraculous recovery to win the race and the 250 points on offer, McLaughlin will claim at least 50 points if he finishes the event.
“Solid day today; qualified really well; car’s really good in the dry. In the wet, it’s pretty good, too,” McLaughlin said.
“Alex (Premat, co-driver) was pretty safe in his race and then I was pretty safe in mine. Got a good spot for tomorrow.”
Van Gisbergen’s clash also hurt De Pasquale, who had been lifted to second on the grid after a brilliant effort earlier in the day by young co-driver Will Brown in the first 60km sprint race.
Brown outfought Van Gisbergen’s veteran co-driver Garth Tander in the 20-lap race to finish behind Whincup’s partner Craig Lowndes.
But after the opening-lap tangle, De Pasquale was issued with a drive-through penalty, sending the Penrite Racing Commodore back through the field.
He eventually finished 13th and will start Sunday’s race from the middle of the pack, with Supercars driving standards adviser Craig Baird admitting he’d been incorrect to blame De Pasquale for the crash.
“It’s the biggest shame because we were sort of the fastest car on the wet tyres for the whole race, so it’s obviously a ‘what could’ve been’,” De Pasquale said.
“I obviously spoke to Bairdo and everyone said ‘not my fault – got a bit stiff’.”
Teammate David Reynolds, who’ll start Sunday’s race from third with co-driver Luke Youlden, could only sympathise with De Pasquale and Brown.
“I feel really bad with what happened to Anton – that sucks,” Reynolds said.
“He didn’t have a good day today.”
Kelly Racing duo Andre Heimgartner and Bryce Fullwood will start from second – a remarkable result after Fullwood somehow escaped without damage following a 360-degree spin on the track in the co-driver race.
“I had two spins and two lap records today so I don’t know whether it’s good or bad,” said Fullwood, who also claimed pole position before finishing fifth in Saturday’s Super 2 support category events.
“Luckily, I kept it all together … I was quite happy to get out of the car after that race.”
Sunday’s race begins at 1:25pm.