Throwback Thursday: McLaughlin’s Newcastle moment as Whincup wins

Scott McLaughlin on one of his toughest days in Supercars, Newcastle 2017. Image: Ross Gibb Photography.

There is no doubt that the 2017 Newcastle Supercars event will go down as one of the most dramatic in the history of the category.

Like all new street races, the inaugural Newcastle 500 evolved with its fair share of controversy.

There was some public backlash after the event was announced by the NSW Government and Supercars in the back half of 2016 and that continued up until the Monday of the event itself.

In the end, it all worked itself out and the Newcastle 500 was positioned as the season finale – and no one could have written a better script!

Any off-track controversy was made to look insignificant as a weekend battle of monumental proportions played out on track.

With 300 points up for grabs over the weekend it was theoretically possible for any one of five drivers to walk away with the title.

In reality, the points going into the event show it was a battle between Jamie Whincup (2850) and Scott McLaughlin (2820) for the championship title, while McLaughlin’s team-mate, Fabian Coulthard (2674), Chaz Mostert (2586) and Shane van Gisbergen (2574) where chasing the final position on the end-of-year podium.

After Saturday’s opening race things had dramatically changed on the championship table.

Whincup had a coming together with Michael Caruso early in the race which caused front suspension damage and left him 13 laps down in 21st, while van Gisbergen finished fifth on track, but was declared 16th after a 15-second post-race penalty after contact with David Reynolds.

Meanwhile McLaughlin took the win from Coulthard and Mostert and leapt into the championship lead.

The championship table after day one was McLaughlin (2970), Whincup (2892), Coulthard (2812), Mostert (2688) and van Gisbergen (2631).

The minimum McLaughlin had to do to collect his and team owner Roger Penske’s first Supercars title was to finish 11th (If Whincup won the race).

He did what he needed to do in qualifying and the shootout and started the race from pole while van Gisbergen (second), Whincup (fifth), Coulthard (eighth) and Mostert (ninth) kept it interesting by all starting inside the top 10.

Cracks started to open up for McLaughlin when he was given a drive-through penalty for a pit lane speeding violation and turned worse when he was given another time penalty for spinning Simona De Silvestro.

Despite all the drama, McLaughlin had raced to the magical 11th spot when he passed James Moffat on lap 93 of the 95-lap race, but it was far from over!

A mistake in turn one on Lap 94 allowed Whincup’s team-mate Craig Lowndes up the inside for the run up Watt Street.

McLaughlin was forced to cover and Lowndes made contact with the left-hand wall, broke his suspension and was sent spearing out of the race.

Whincup took the chequered flag and just seconds before McLaughlin did the same in 11th spot, he was handed the equivalent to a drive through penalty which relegated him to 18th and second place in the championship.

While McLaughlin and the rest of the DJR Team Penske crew were left shattered with thoughts of ‘what could have been’, Whincup shredded his tyres in celebration of his record seventh championship.

Whincup won the title on 3042 points with McLaughlin another 21 points back.

There was some consolation for the Shell V-Power-backed Ford team when they clinched the teams’ championship over the Red Bull Holden outfit.

It is now history that McLaughlin would recover to clinch the next three Supercars championships, the first of those on the streets of Newcastle in 2018, which had delivered such heartache 12 months earlier.

Last year McLaughlin compared the feeling of losing the 2017 Newcastle 500 to that he experienced when he was leading at the 2022 Texas Motor Speedway IndyCar race only to get caught in traffic on the last corner and be passed by team-mate Josef Newgarden for the win.

All the drama of the 2017 weekend probably overshadowed another significant event, that being the retirement of Todd Kelly.

Ironically, the Nissan Altima Kelly drove that day will be piloted by his son Mason in the Super3 races at this year’s event.

With no Newcastle race from 2020 to 2022, due to COVID restrictions, 2023 sees the return of the event this weekend, but as the opening round of the season and the first racing featuring the new Gen3 Supercars.

Will it produce anything as dramatic as 2017? We only have a couple of days to find out.

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