Craig Lowndes admits he is hanging on to his V8 Supercars Championship hopes by his finger nails after his second qualifying error of the weekend meant a fighting ninth was the best he could do in yesterday's double points 200km mini-marathon at the Sydney Motorsport Park 400.
Lowndes stays third in the Championship with his 3-11-9 finishes at the Eastern Creek circuit in his Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore VF.
While he has closed in on factory Ford Falcon FG II driver Mark Winterbottom in second place, Lowndes is very conscious that his teammate Jamie Whincup has now pulled out to a 213 point advantage after 4-3-5 finishes.
Behind him, Shane van Gisbergen is threatening in fourth in his VIP Petfoods Commodore after his strong Saturday wins in the rain, just 34 points the difference.
"We are still hanging in there," Lowndes told v8supercars.com.au. "We are hanging in there with nails."
Lowndes' cheery public demeanour slipped momentarily on both Saturday and Sunday after his qualifying offs, emphasising how acutely conscious he was of the significance of his errors.
"I was annoyed because it was my mistake and when it's my mistake I take it pretty personally," Lowndes explained.
Lowndes has finished second to Whincup in the last three V8 Supercars Championships and has made it a priority to improve his qualifying performance in a concerted effort to reverse the order this year.
"Yes, we are pushing hard because if you are not at the front, then the result today is probably as good as you are going to get and that's not good enough," he said.
"We just made some little, small mistakes, but because the competition is so tight, it's a big side effect. You can make one little mistake and you can go back 10 or 20 positions."
Underlining that, the first 21 qualifiers for Race 28 were separated by just 0.8570 secs around the 3.93km circuit.
Lowndes' run-off in qualifying for the 100km Race 27 on Saturday meant he started 21st on the grid, climbing up to 11th in the wet race. In the only qualifying session he completed successfully, for Race 26, he qualified fourth and fibiehd ahead of Whincup in third.
His accident on Sunday, in which he dropped off the outside of the last turn on hard tyres and slid over the wet outfield into the tyre barrier early in the qualifying session before setting a time on soft tyres, sent him to the back of the grid. From there, #888race engineer Jeromy Moore admitted they would needto "make magic" in the race.
Overall for the event, Whincup scored 235 points and Lowndes 184.
"I made a slight little mistake and because everything is so damp and wet I just took off across the grass," Lowndes said of his Sunday off. "As soon as you went off track you weren't going to stop for a while.
"I just had to be patient and I had some great battles throughout the race. But really for me all and all it was a satisfying race."
Lowndes says he'll know fore sure what his Championship chances are after the three-round Pirtek Enduro Cup, which includes the September 12-14 Wilson Security Sandown 500, October 9-12 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and October 24-26 Castrol EDGE Gold Coast 600.
Lowndes and then co-driver Warren Luff won last year's inaugural Pirtek Enduro Cup. This year he shares with FPR refugee Steven Richards.
"You want to get out of the Gold Coast and see where you are," said Lowndes. "The next three races will make or break the Championship.
"It is most important to finish, that is the one fundamental for these next three races. If you can't win it, make sure you finish and get as many points as you can.
"So get out of the Gold Coast and then you have Phillip Island and Homebush with only 600 points between them. But you have 900 points over these next three meetings. They are big, big turn-around events."