Jamie Whincup has lost a golden chance to claim a record third-straight Sandown 500 victory and handed a championship boost to Mark Winterbottom in a dramatic start to the V8 Supercars endurance series.
The four-time reigning champion suffered a pit-lane puncture while leading, limping to a 15th place finish and allowing Winterbottom to take advantage.
The Pepsi Max Crew car No.5 sat patiently behind the leading No.1 car for more than 100 laps but pounced late in the race, undercutting his rivals thanks to a calculated pit-lane strategy.
Winterbottom won the race ahead of teammate Chaz Mostert, who was partnered by Cameron Waters, with Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb finishing third.
His win with co-driver Steve Owen tightens his grip on the V8 Supercars championship.
The career Ford man revived memories of his last Sandown triumph, achieved as a co-driver to Jason Bright.
“Last time the team and myself won this race was 06 and I was in the garage watching Brighty, cheering him on,” Winterbottom said.
“It’s an awesome day, a really cool day and good points.”
The result is a bitter one for Whincup, who had effective control of the race until a tyre puncture from a pit visit meant an unplanned stop – and an eventual 15th-place finish.
The four-time reigning champion falls to eighth place in the championship standings, 629 points behind Winterbottom, and is now sure to relinquish his championship.
With the Falcon FG X’s superior pace, either Winterbottom or Mostert – who sits 198 points behind his teammate in second – seem likely to take the mantle.
Winterbottom was in no mood to discuss his championship hopes – or those of Whincup – despite his commanding lead.
“I’m just happy we won the race,” he said.
“There’s so much Jamie chat, it goes on all the time.
“There’s no doubt Chaz is the biggest threat to try and take this thing so we’ll be working hard to beat him but working hard to work with him.”
Craig Lowndes moves to fourth overall, behind David Reynolds, after failing to overcome a poor qualifying day and finishing 13th.
The biggest drama of the day spoiled Scott McLaughlin’s race.
Co-driver Alex Premat pitted for fuel but a refuelling bungle saw one of his crew leave the spike in the Frenchman’s Volvo.
As Premat took off, his engineer was spun dangerously off his feet, while the Frenchman had to pit twice; once to remove the spike and once as a result of the subsequent penalty.