Team Vodafone's Jamie Whincup showed his 2008 Australian V8 Supercar title triumph was no fluke as he wrapped up back-to-back titles with a fifth-place finish in race one of the Telstra 500 at Homebush.
It could have been a win or at least a podium but for a couple of small mistakes. However, after practice a finish in the top 10 would have looked like a good result. Struggles early in qualifying did not help, but in the end Whincup made the top 10 before jumping up to third in the shootout.
Whincup becomes the first driver to take back-to-back V8 Supercar titles since Stone Brothers Racing's Marcos Ambrose won the 2003 and 2004 titles, also for Ford. Ambrose now races successfully in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
Whincup also becomes the first driver since Holden Racing Team's Mark Skaife in 2002 to lead the championship from the very first race of the season to the final race. His season started well with four wins in the first four races as he set up another championship challenge, and he looked in control as the season reached its midpoint. But despite racking up the wins, Whincup's lead while comfortable was not insurmountable.
His season suffered a little at Phillip Island when the car he was sharing with Craig Lowndes suffered a tire issue in the closing laps of a race they had dominated, causing Lowndes and Whincup to lose the win on the final lap.
Late-race dramas struck again for Lowndes and Whincup as they tried to make it four Bathursts 1000 wins in a row, with a clutch problem with Lowndes at the wheel and then a battle with Jason Bargwanna in the final handful of laps meaning another win had slipped away, although the result at both Sandown and Bathurst could easily have been worse.
What did make these results costly was that the drivers who won both those races were the Holden Racing Team duo of Will Davison and Garth Tander. A 267-point lead over Will Davison after the first race at Ipswich was now down to 93 points and, with each of the remaining four rounds worth 300 points each, it was no certainty who would be the victor.
Contact early in the first of four races on the streets of Surfers Paradise meant a poor finish for Whincup as well as a poor starting position for race two and allowed Davison to move to within 51 points. After the second race, the margin was down to 41.
Damaged steering for Davison in race three looked to have handed Whincup a golden opportunity to reopen the gap as he ran in fifth place, but distracted by some lapped cars, he crashed hard into the fence with just over a lap remaining and scored no points. That put Davison just 20 points behind.
The final race saw a storming drive from Whincup, charging from 23rd to sixth to open the gap marginally to 32 points with 900 remaining. But after his struggles at Surfers Paradise, which saw him cancel an appearance at the Race of Champions to concentrate on his title ambitions, he returned to form and won the next three races, with fourth place and a DNF for Davison in the second race at Barbagallo all but sealing the title, today's race finally confirming it.
With 11 wins from 28 races, along with six pole positions, the most for any driver this year, Whincup has again shown he will be tough to beat next season, when he and the Team Vodafone crew switch from Ford to Holden as he tries to claim three titles in a row and unprecedented successive titles in different marques.