Scott McLaughlin took a vital win in Sunday's race at the Auckland SuperSprint to open up a 14 point lead in the Supercars championship heading to the finale on the streets of Newcastle.
The 25-year-old held his nerve from the front row and fought off an aggressive Jamie Whincup midway through the race to take a crucial win and pull clear of compatriot Shane van Gisbergen in the championship fight.
Van Gisbergen took second after his Red Bull team instructed Whincup to ease off on the final lap and allow the Kiwi by.
It meant the Kiwi pair finish the weekend with a win each and second each to hold the positions they shared coming into the weekend. The Ford racer claimed the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy as a result of the Sunday win – the first time he has secured that achievement.
"It was just so cool to see the fans up on the fence," McLaughlin said. "I could see their faces and it is something I have always wanted to do.
"It was so awesome and something I won't forget.
"This whole season we have pleased the fans a lot and today was about enjoying the moment and putting on a show."
McLaughlin started with the Red Bull Holden teammates either side of him and managed to hold his position through the opening exchanges.
He exited the pits after his second stop as Whincup charged down the front straight. The two fought hard for a couple of laps, banging into each and going side-by-side for a period but McLaughlin refused to yield and held on for the race win.
McLaughlin wasn't overly aggressive on Saturday while Van Gisbergen demonstrated a massive hunger to win a second championship, but he showed his teeth 24 hours on to fend off Whincup, who he isn't fighting for the title.
"I wasn't that down yesterday – I was second and it was ok. We improved the car today and it was awesome," McLaughlin said.
"There are a few little things we have to work on."
So the series will move to the streets of Newcastle with the two Kiwis in a straight head-to-head battle for the championship in three weeks.
"We race hard for our respective teams and we both want the same things," McLaughlin said. "There are times that will see some tension but at the end of the day the right driver will win and we will sort it out on track."
The pair get along well and Van Gisbergen expects the fight to be a fair one.
"As Scotty said – we always race super hard and we give ourselves a car width and maybe a mirror," Van Gisbergen said.
"Our fights are hard but fair and I expect the same at Newcastle."
Veteran driver Craig Lowndes signed off from fulltime racing in New Zealand with fourth place but did throw out the suggestion of a wildcard entry at the one venue on the calendar where he has not recorded a race win.
Kiwis Fabian Coulthard finished seventh, Andre Heimgartner eighth and Richie Stanaway 20th having all started inside the top 10.