You don’t win 114 races and seven titles, and suddenly think you’ll never get to taste victory again.
Jamie Whincup never entertained that thought, but he admitted win No. 114 took longer – much longer – than he expected.
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Whincup entered the Ipswich weekend a whopping 640 points down on runaway championship leader Scott McLaughlin, having recorded just six podiums after 18 races.
The sudden turnaround at Queensland Raceway was a relief for all at the decorated Triple Eight outfit, none more so than Whincup, who admitted he felt like he was on “struggle street”.
Whincup said Triple Eight have been hampered by the shift back to linear springs, but the new-for-2019 Ford Mustang – despite having its wings clipped on numerous occasions – has proved the class of the field to seal the Manufacturers’ Championship.
While conceding the new Ford is on rails, Whincup also admitted he and his crew have made few changes this season – it’s just that others are simply maximising their own packages.
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“I’ve been around long enough to understand that you can’t win every race all the time,” he told foxsports.com.au.
“You can’t be at the top forever, I’ve had a fantastic run.
“We’ve had good results this year. We’ve had plenty of seconds.
“The thing is, we’ve had some results that any other year would’ve been a win, but the changes to cars and the circumstances meant that we hadn’t had a win.
“I had my first win of the year at Queensland Raceway, but I felt we deserved a few more had the circumstances been the same.”
In previous seasons where Triple Eight made sluggish starts compared to their rivals, they managed to find form at the back end and achieve brilliant results, with the team’s track record suggesting they’ll make a fight of it as 2019 winds down.
One recent example is 2015 – a season following four straight drivers’ titles for Whincup – where after a lean first half, he won five of the final nine races.
Last season, it was in Townsville where the Holden squad launched a second-half assault on the 2018 championship as they tasted success at seven of eight events, winning nine of 11 races.
Whincup and his team have managed to bounce back time and again, although this season, inconsistency has been their Achilles heel.
Positive results in Adelaide and Melbourne preceded a frustrating Tasmania weekend, before Whincup was “absolutely nowhere” at Phillip Island with a 12th and DNF due to a lost wheel. However, he managed to recover to finish fourth and second at Barbagallo Raceway.
He has finished in the top six – bar his shock crash in the wet in Townsville – in every race since, with his Ipswich victory proof steps are being taken in the right direction.
The deficit to the Shell Fords remain, although Whincup’s Saturday win and van Gisbergen’s Sunday charge to second in Ipswich demonstrate how far the team has come.
Whincup acknowledged “the Ford guys have made a step up” in 2019 and refused to lay blame completely on the change back to the linear spring. He did, though, admit the change was “more difficult than what we first planned”.
Regardless, there is still a deficit – but Whincup believes the Holden squad can have as big an impact as any of the championship from here on in.
“You’re either in two places. One, they’ve got an advantage and you don’t know why, or two, they’ve got an advantage and you do know why,” he said of the Mustangs.
“We honestly believe we do know where their advantage is and why. We’ve created a plan to peg it back and try to make another step forward.
“We’ve got a plan. We’re chipping away at it, it won’t happen overnight, but we expect to be as competitive as anyone come the end of the year.”