The sub-plots to watch in Newcastle

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 19/11/2018
  • By Mitchell Adam

Most eyes will be on Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen in this weekend's Coates Hire Newcastle 500, as they fight for the 2018 Supercars Championship.

The New Zealanders are separated by just 14 points, with a pair of 95-lap races standing between them and the ultimate prize.

They will naturally command most of the attention, but there are other stories to keep an eye on as the season comes to an end.

Can Lowndes sign-off by beating Whincup?

Craig Lowndes is stepping back from full-time Supercars competition in style, having claimed a seventh Bathurst victory last month.

Bouncing back from a lacklustre 10th in 2017 – albeit sixth before a pair of Newcastle DNFs – Lowndes is fourth in the standings.

He's also just 58 points behind long-time team-mate Jamie Whincup in the fight for third in the championship, a little battle he'd dearly love to win.

How high will the Falcon FG X finish?

There'll be nostalgia aplenty when the Falcon contests its final Supercars event before it's replaced by Ford's Mustang.

The current – and last – generation of Falcon, the FG X made its racing debut in 2015 and started this year 10th on the list for winning models, with 34 victories.

A further 10 this year has moved it to 44 and seventh, past the VS and VZ Holden Commodores and BF Falcon.

It starts the weekend one behind the VX Commodore, and a Ford double would mean it signs off in sixth.

What will be Pye's new career best?

Scott Pye will be recording a new highest-place finish in the Supercars Championship, up from 12th last year.

Pye is currently eighth in the points and would fall no lower than 11th if he failed to score and Tim Slade won both races.

He's likely to finish in the seventh-to-ninth bracket, sitting 40 points behind Fabian Coulthard and 33 ahead of Rick Kelly.

Can Nissan achieve a brand best?

If Kelly can overhaul either Coulthard or Pye, he'll set a new benchmark for an Altima driver as the manufacturer formally exits the category.

Kelly sits ninth, which would equal his and Nissan Motorsport's best of the current program from 2014.

Unless he sheds significant points to Nick Percat (156 behind) and Slade (239), Kelly will get a Nissan back into the top 10 after Michael Caruso in 13th was its top driver in 2017.

Which team takes fourth?

The top three places in the teams' championship are locked in, with Triple Eight, DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing.

Behind them, though, three Holden squads are split by just 53 points in the fight for fourth.

Brad Jones Racing currently holds sway on 4,329 points, ahead of Erebus Motorsport on 4,318 and Walkinshaw Andretti United on 4,276.

Who'll win the battle of BJR?

Fourth in the teams' championship would be a major jump for BJR from eighth in 2017.

That was Percat's first season visiting Albury, and he finished an up-and-down campaign 19th, eight places behind Slade.

This time around, a more consistent Percat is 10th heading to Newcastle, with Slade again 11th, the pair split by 83 points.

Can Winterbottom grab one last Tickford win?

It's now more than two years since Mark Winterbottom won a Supercars race, at Pukekohe in November 2016.

This weekend is his last chance to add to the 38 wins he's taken with the Ford squad he joined way back in 2006, and won the '15 title with.

Currently 12th in the points, he is, though, certain to end 2018 well below his previous lowest with FPR/PRA/Tickford of sixth, recorded in each of the last two years.

Can Tander avoid an unwanted marker?

Another Supercars champion and Bathurst winner, Garth Tander is one place behind Winterbottom in the standings in 13th and in danger of a career-worst.

Just 14 points split the veterans, while Slade ahead and James Courtney behind are both more than 100 points away.

Tander's lowest championship finish is 14th in 1998, his rookie campaign, which he joined four events into the season.

Leaner years with Garry Rogers Motorsport before his move to Clayton included 12th and 11th in 2003 and '04.

Does Le Brocq finish as the top rookie?

Having spent the first half of the year trading places with Anton De Pasquale, Jack Le Brocq looks set to finish 2018 as the highest-placed rookie.

Le Brocq has led the five-strong bunch since Queensland Raceway, and now sits 179 points ahead of De Pasquale.

The Tekno and Erebus young guns are 19th and 20th, with James Golding 21st, Richie Stanaway 25th and Todd Hazelwood 26th.

Who'll take the wooden spoon?

Stanaway and Hazelwood, meanwhile, are in the unwanted fight to finish 26th and last of the full-time drivers.

Both have had trying campaigns, for every different reasons, and are currently split by 31 points.

A little further up the order, Simona De Silvestro is 24th with an 88-point buffer over Stanaway.

Who'll win the Dunlop Super2 Series title?

Hazelwood at least heads to Newcastle with fond memories, having claimed the Dunlop Super2 Series title there last year.

This time around, Chris Pither starts the finale with a 32-point lead over Paul Dumbrell.

With 300 on the line, Garry Jacobson and Alex Rullo are both outside contenders, 111 and 125 behind respectively.

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