Just when it looked like V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup was going to run away with the Adelaide 500, the dream start to his title defence turned into a nightmare after he figured in one of the many dramas of Sunday’s deciding race.

Whincup failed to complete the final 250-kilometre leg after his comfortable lead at two-thirds distance was erased by a controversial pit lane drive-through penalty that triggered his ultimate demise.

Fighting his way back from the penalty, which dropped him to eighth, his Triple Eight Holden collided with Michael Caruso’s Nissan on the 63rd of 76 laps, snapping the steering. Whincup’s pit stop penalty handed the lead to Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney, who held off Craig Lowndes in the other Triple Eight Commodore to claim the Adelaide 500 trophy.

Lowndes’ second place, on top of his second and first in Saturday’s pair of 125-kilometre races, added to Whincup’s indignity as it left him trailing his veteran teammate in the championship standings.

While the start of Whincup’s bid for an unprecedented sixth V8 title ended in rancour and recriminations, Lowndes left the brutal 3.2-kilometre Adelaide Parklands street circuit with the early lead that most of his previous championship challenges have lacked – and on which they have often fallen short at the end of the season.

He amassed 282 points from the Adelaide 500’s three races, an advantage of 53 points over Whincup (199), who is fourth behind Fabian Coulthard (230) and Shane van Gisbergen, who were consistent scorers over the weekend.

Along with Whincup’s unexpected incidents, Sunday’s slog was punctuated by big accidents that helped define the outcome, causing safety car periods that bunched the field.

Will Davison, in his first event since his risky switch from Ford Performance Racing to Erebus Motorsport, crashed his Mercedes-Benz at the track’s infamous high-speed Turn 8.

After tangling with James Moffat’s Nissan Altima, Davison’s Merc was sent careering into the concrete safety barrier on the exit of the corner, losing its left front wheel and passenger front door.

But that crash was tame compared with the multiple rollover over suffered by Jason Bright, whose Brad Jones Racing Commodore was tipped over in a first-turn scuffle during the restart following Davison’s accident.

Bright was pushed sideways into a kerb, which tripped his car up on its wheels, which dug into the run-off area’s gravel and turned it on its roof.

The Holden slid across the track and slammed into a tyre barrier, sending it spiralling into the air along the safety fence before it slammed to earth upside down.

Bright was uninjured despite just about every bit of the bodywork being crushed or torn.

Whincup avoided the carnage but race officials ordered him to take a pit lane drive-through penalty after they observed that his car controller touched his car, which the rules prohibit.

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