Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander took a comfortable victory as Team Vodafone's Jamie Whincup secured back-to-back titles in the first race of the Telstra 500 on the streets of Homebush.
Tander led for most of the race apart from a period after the first safety car where Lee Holdsworth jumped him in the pits, and then Jamie Whincup led before an error at Turn 1 on the restart after the second safety car allowed Tander to sneak through and run away from then on.
Second was Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom who kept out of trouble all day and made his way up the order, with third place taken by Fujitsu Racing's Jason Bright, who vaulted up the order at the third safety car period after a decision to pit at the previous safety car dramatically shortened his stop at the third one and gained him more than 10 places at the final stop.
In the closing laps, Bright had his hands full, with Team Vodafone's Jamie Whincup looking for a way past, who would have been second if he hadn't outbraked himself under safety car conditions after exiting the pits on new tires, dropping several places in the order for the final restart.
With two laps remaining, it looked like Whincup might find his way past as Bright locked up at the end of the back straight and ran wide. Whincup looked left and right but couldn't get past, and as he tried to make a move ran a little bit offline, losing grip and allowing Lee Holdsworth who was sitting right behind them to sneak through ahead of Whincup into fourth place.
Holdsworth was recovering after leading the race early in the event before getting caught out on fluid dropped after Paul Dumbrell slammed into Dean Fiore at the first chicane. Holdsworth ended up in the tires before the safety car made an appearance, but it was too late to stop Holdsworth dropping from first to 23rd.
Fifth for Whincup was more than good enough to clinch the title, however, as he secured back-to-back championships for himself just as the team prepares to switch marques for 2010. His only championship rival, Will Davison, had a terrible day. After qualifying 17th, he struggled for pace throughout the race, and remained mired in the pack. Soon after he made his second pit stop, he outbraked himself at Turn 1 as he approached Whincup's teammate Craig Lowndes.
Lowndes, who had just clouted the fence at the final turn, turned in as late as he could but Davison was going straight ahead, the two making contact, damaging the steering on both cars, Lowndes was forced to pit immediately while Davison soldiered on.
Davison's day got just a little bit worse, receiving a drive-through penalty for the contact, before recovering in the closing laps to finish 15th.
There were also drivers whose day looked set for a great result but ended up well down the order. Jim Beam's James Courtney made up a few places during the final safety car period and was running in third place. But with less than 20 laps to go he was forced to pit by officials to shut a driver's door that kept opening. He was forced to pit again three laps later when the repair failed to keep the door shut.
Cameron McConville looked set for a podium from the start of the race, pressuring Whincup through the middle of the race. But just after making his final pit stop, he hit the tires at Turn 8, bringing out the safety car and ending his day.
With just one race remaining for the season, Whincup leads Will Davison by 332 points. But Davison's poor finish and Tander's win has seen the gap between the two Holden Racing Team teammates shrink to 38 points.
Davison must finish close to Tander in tomorrow's race to maintain that second position, as another result like today will see Tander leapfrog ahead of him despite Davison having entered the round as the only driver with a chance of beating Whincup to the title.
Pos Driver Make Time
1. Garth Tander Holden Commodore VE 2:05:49.8020
2. Mark Winterbottom Ford Falcon FG + 2.8348
3. Jason Bright Ford Falcon FG + 8.0839
4. Lee Holdsworth Holden Commodore VE + 8.5096
5. Jamie Whincup Ford Falcon FG + 10.6762
6. Michael Caruso Holden Commodore VE + 18.6685
7. Jason Bargwanna Holden Commodore VE + 20.5039
8. Steven Richards Ford Falcon FG + 20.8234
9. Rick Kelly Holden Commodore VE + 21.2858
10. Shane Van Gisbergen Ford Falcon FG + 31.2491
11. Tony D'Alberto Holden Commodore VE + 33.7910
12. Jason Richards Holden Commodore VE + 35.0338
13. Fabian Coulthard Ford Falcon FG + 36.3815
14. Todd Kelly Holden Commodore VE + 49.8013
15. Will Davison Holden Commodore VE + 1:03.2496
16. Russell Ingall Holden Commodore VE + 1:24.0917
17. James Courtney Ford Falcon FG + 1 lap
18. David Reynolds Holden Commodore VE + 1 lap
19. Craig Lowndes Ford Falcon FG + 17 laps
20. Alex Davison Ford Falcon FG + 18 laps
Driver Make Laps
Tim Slade Holden Commodore VE 71
Jack Perkins Holden Commodore VE 58
Steven Johnson Ford Falcon FG 57
Greg Murphy Holden Commodore VE 48
Cameron McConville Holden Commodore VE 41
Dean Fiore Holden Commodore VE 24
Paul Dumbrell Holden Commodore VE 24
Michael Patrizi Ford Falcon BF 9
Mark McNally Holden Commodore VE 2