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Whincup seizes Supercars title from McLaughlin after penalty

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The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship isn’t a series we cover regularly on MotorSportsTalk, but it is something we need to look at today following an utterly dramatic finale at the Newcastle circuit at the weekend.

Jamie Whincup, of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and Triple 8 Racing Race Engineering, snatched the title post-race from DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, in his Shell V-Power Racing Ford, after McLaughlin was assessed a post-race 25-second time penalty for what the stewards deemed to be reckless driving.

An odd race saw McLaughlin, in the driver’s seat for both his and Penske’s first Supercars driver’s championship (DJR Team Penske did win the team’s championship) penalized three times (drive-through for pit lane speeding and a 15-second penalty for spinning Simona de Silvestro occurred earlier), but none worse than the crushing blow after a final lap battle.

Similar to the 2008 Formula 1 season finale in Brazil, McLaughlin was further down the order than he should have been in position to clinch the title, and required a dramatic last-lap pass up the inside of another car for a spot to gain. In that F1 race, Lewis Hamilton got Timo Glock for fifth place, and in Newcastle, it was McLaughlin’s turn to pass James Moffat for 11th. That position would have netted McLaughlin the title on countback over Whincup.

Although McLaughlin passed him to get through, and thus secure the position he needed to clinch the championship, what he hadn’t planned for was TeamVortex’s Craig Lowndes to attack up the inside and try to deny him in his Holden.

The odd nature of the Newcastle street course meant after Turn 1 there was a gap in the wall driver’s left, and the bumpy track could unsettle the corner and upset its stability. That set up the dramatic moment.

As McLaughlin got a poor corner exit, he then sought to defend the position ahead of a surging Lowndes, who he didn’t know was alongside because he’d lost his left side mirror earlier in the race. But the two collided, with Lowndes then losing the back-end on the run to Turn 2 and hitting the wall after sustaining left front tire damage following wall contact.

Whincup won the race but wasn’t assured the title until McLaughlin’s penalty was assessed. The 25-second time penalty dropped him down to 18th, and ensured Whincup had his seventh series championship (first since 2014) by 21 points.

Whincup was stunned even after the fact as he watched a replay of the contact, as in the immediate aftermath he couldn’t believe his fortune.

“I’m lost for words. I didn’t have a clue crossing the line, I assumed I came second and the crew goes ‘you’ve got number one’,” Whincup said, via Supercars.com.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 26: Jamie Whincup driver of the #88 Red Bull Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore VF celebrates after winning race 26 and the 2017 Supercars Drivers Championship during the Newcastle 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Newcastle Street Circuit on November 26, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

McLaughlin was understandably gutted; the breakout season came up just short.

“I lost my left-hand mirror so early. I knew we were close, but I didn’t think we were that close, I just defended the line into Turn 2 and we got interlocked and I genuinely didn’t mean to push him into he wall,” he said.

“To get pinged like that… I shouldn’t have even been there in the first place. That’s hard.”

While McLaughlin was gutted, Roger Penske, who was on site in Australia, was furious.

“I’m not really sure what happened with Lowndes. It looked like, you know, he was there (McLaughlin was past Lowndes) and to give us a 25 seconds penalty is pretty outrageous. But it is what it is,” Penske said, via Speedcafe.com.

The loss cost Team Penske its second driver’s title in two series this year, with Josef Newgarden having won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship at Sonoma in September.

Penske was, however, on site for that championship victory there, in Miami last week as the No. 22 Team Penske Ford won the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner’s championship, and on site this weekend in Australia for DJR Team Penske to have claimed the Supercars team’s championship. Beyond McLaughlin, who ended second in points, teammate Fabian Coulthard was third after a dynamic season.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 26: Scott McLaughlin drives the #17 Shell V-Power Racing Team Ford Falcon FGX leads the field into turn 1 at the start of race 26 for the Newcastle 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Newcastle Street Circuit on November 26, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500