Ford Performance Racinghas been working on qualifying pace, but Championship leader Mark Winterbottom yesterday found himself battling through the pack on the way to two sixth place finishes at the Coates Hire Ipswich 400.
As he came on strong towards the end of the second 100km race, 'Frosty' battled with Jack Daniel's Nissan driver Rick Kelly, each furiously crisscrossing for a chance to finish in the top five.
While the points gap continues to close - and the efforts to improve qualifying didn't pan out - Winterbottom, while happy with his ability to climb at the hard to pass Queensland Raceway, was still looking to milk more out of his Falcon.
When reflecting on the second race of the day, where he drove from 11th to sixth, a passing comment singled out Kelly.
Nissan Motorsport team co-owner and driver Kelly was not only on for a top five finish - which would've been his equal best for the season, something he hadn't achieved since the season opener - but watched his stablemate Michael Caruso qualify on the front row and then risk it all on a dive at mid-race leader Scott McLaughlin, to end in disaster (a drive-through and 24th position).
In the closing laps of the race, Winterbottom's progress through the field saw him reach Kelly - and the two proceeded to exchange positions as laps were running out to earn more valuable Championship points.
The battle made great viewing - but for Winterbottom, was something he felt held him back.
"There's good guys out there to race - and then you get to Rick, and it just sort of all turns pear-shaped," Winterbottom told v8supercars.com.au post-race.
"It's just one of those things. I'd love to not be in the Championship hunt and actually race him, because that's how he races.
"I was frustrated to get to him and stop, because I think we could've gotten Giz (Shane van Gisbergen, fourth) as well - but if we can qualify up the front we don't have to deal with that, so that's our job to do better and stay clear of that."
Kelly, however, enjoyed the battle and commended Winterbottom's clean racing.
While his Championship rival Jamie Whincup seemed to overcome the deficit the Red Bull team was facing on the Dunlop soft tyre and looked set to win his second race at the Coates Hire Ipswich 400, Winterbottom kept his cool against the Nissan.
"I really enjoyed it - Frosty's obviously more concerned about the Championship and the bigger picture, wheras for us a top five was what we were aiming for. So it was worth me having a crack and doing my best to keep him behind," Kelly told v8supercars.com.au.
"Generally in a longer race if someone like that came up behind you'd probably, if he had a good go at passing, you'd let him go. But in that case it was worth fighting to the death and we managed a top five because of it. It was really good, he was driving nice and clean."
Kelly went to the FPR garages post-race to apologise for contact that was made, but was not able to speak to Winterbottombefore v8supercars.com.au.
"I just wanted to see him and say good job, and I had a bit of contact with him on the exit of three on the last lap and I just wanted to have a chat to him," the Jack Daniel's racer said.
When told of Winterbottom's comments, he did not take them to heart.
"That's just a little bit of frustration from him," Kelly said.
"For sure he had a better car, and would've driven away from me and gotten up to van Gisbergen.
"But like I said, there was a fifth on the line for us - for me it was worth the battle and we did exactly that. So I understand the frustration, because he had a quicker car and he managed to get in front of us at that point.
"For him, it's the bigger picture, he's got a Championship to worry about - that's not something I was about to hinder. But we managed to out-drive him and keep out in front."
Funnily enough, when Kelly was working towards his Championship win in 2006 he was dubbed 'the accumulator' having not scored a pole position, and earning just one race win in what was a consistent season with the former HSV Dealer Team.
He also acknowledged a good clean battle with Walkinshaw Racing's new recruit Nick Percat.
Kelly was very pleased with the performance of the Nissans and was enthusiastic about today's racing.
"We're really excited," he said.
"We've found some great setup gains this weekend, which is helped us at this event and we're excited."
The final 200km race of the Coates Hire Ipswich 400 will be run today, with qualifying at 12.55pm AEST.
The Championship gap between Winterbottom to Whincup is now down to just 48 points, with 150 on offer for a win in today's race.