James Courtney has left the penultimate round of the V8 Supercar championship with a 53 point lead over reigning champ Jamie Whincup.

Courtney was able to record a much-needed win for his troubled team in Sunday's 200km race after a difficult 100km Saturday race which saw Paul Dumbrell take his maiden victory.

The Norton 360 Sandown Challenge was drama-packed, with the race on Saturday and then again on Sunday red-flagged after two monster shunts. First, it was Garth Tander nosing into the fence at the end of the main straight on lap one of Saturday's race. That crash came after wheel to wheel contact with eventual race winner Paul Dumbrell broke Tander's right front steering and cut a tyre.

Then, on Sunday, the fellow Toll HRT car of Will Davison was tagged in the rear at the end of the back straight by Michael Caruso upsetting both cars. Caruso drove nose first into the tyre wall while Davison's Commodore backed in, launched 20 feet in the air and came down hard, severely damaging the rear of the car and spraying fuel from the ruptured fuel cell. Caruso apologised for his role in the crash, with Davison calling it a 'brain dead move'.

Both incidents led to red flags, with Sunday's lasting more than half an hour while officials repaired the damaged fence.

Paul Dumbrell backed up his emotional maiden victory on Saturday with pole on Sunday, but was overtaken by stable-mate Mark Winterbottom through turn one on the opening lap while an angry field squabbled behind them.

Russell Ingall was one of only six on the soft tyres for the opening stint, and used them to good effect, moving from outside the top five into the lead on lap 8. In the first round of pitstops Todd Kelly and Lee Holdsworth both elevated themselves ahead of Dumbrell, Whincup and James Courtney, while Russell Ingall held a narrow three-second gap over Winterbottom going in to lap 32, and the monster crash for Davison and Caruso.

After touring under yellow flags for two laps and pit stops, the race was red flagged for half an hour, leaving Shane van Gisbergen and Dean Fiore to start from the front row. That duo wouldn't hold the lead for long, both running wide at the fast, left hand turn one.

With Jason Richards sidelined to tackle a cancerous tumour discovered in his abdomen, Andrew Jones was back for his first non-enduro round since 2008, but when his #8 Team BOC car expired just two laps after the restart, we were back under yellow.

On the restart, the three title contenders filled the top three positions, Winterbottom leading from Courtney and Whincup with Holdsworth harrying in fourth.

Winterbottom held a tenuous lead until lap 45, when Courtney used his superior car speed to get by and extend his points gap to nearest rival Whincup.

The scheduled 65 laps was cut to 60 due to television timing commitments, giving Winterbottom just 15 laps to hold off Whincup and Holdsworth in a tense final phase of the race. Ultimately, Courtney was able to win and marginally extend his lead heading into the Sydney 500 at Homebush, while the trio of Winterbottom, Whincup and Holdsworth took their fight for second right to the line, Winterbottom holding off by less than a car length from Whincup and Holdsworth just four one-thousandths of a second behind in fourth.

The win for Courtney was both timely and emotional. Boardroom dramas have the iconic Dick Johnson owned race team facing an uncertain future, and Courtney's manager Adam Gow has flown in from the UK for talks on the young star's future.

"We've had a few kicks to the family jewels lately, but we've been able to step back up there and do the job," Courtney said. "With the things going on in the team and everything all around us, for the boys to keep their heads down and keep focused, the win goes to them."

The championship is now down to Whincup and Courtney, just 53 points apart, while Mark Winterbottom is an outside chance, 203 points behind Courtney with just 300 left to play for.

by Jacob Black



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