Scott McLaughlin says he will climb on the roof of his Mustang in Newcastle on Sunday afternoon and celebrate the "best year of my life" despite lingering tension in the sport over his second Supercars crown.
This weekend's Newcastle 500 will lack the championship drama of the race's first two editions as McLaughlin has the title locked up, but there has been no shortage of action off the track after the DJR Team Penske driver's controversial win in Bathurst last month.
McLaughlin has faced accusations from rival teams, principally Dave Reynolds' Erebus Motorsport, that his new Mustang has enjoyed an unfair advantage over the rest of the field this season and he should have been stripped of his Mt Panorama victory for using an illegal engine in qualifying.
The Kiwi was instead relegated to the back of the grid for the Sandown 500 two weeks ago, where he finished ninth to claim his second successive championship.
Supercars made aerodynamic changes to the Mustangs after they dominated the first 10 races of 2019 with a clear advantage in cornering speed.
McLaughlin won seven of those races, but the changes made little impact as he claimed 11 of the next 15 starts to set an Australian touring car record of 18 race wins in a season.
He has claimed 16 pole positions, 13 more than his nearest rivals, and 14 more race wins than Triple Eight stars Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen.
He leads the championship by 550 points from van Gisbergen. Even if stewards had removed the 300 points from his Bathurst win and elevated second-placed van Gisbergen to first, McLaughlin would still hold an almost unassailable 226-point lead heading into Newcastle, where 300 points are on offer.
Penske also attracted criticism in Bathurst when it ordered Fabian Coulthard to slow down behind the safety car on lap 135. McLaughlin went on to hold off a fast-finishing van Gisbergen, but Penske was fined $250,000 and docked 300 team points. Coulthard was relegated to last and received online death threats from irate fans.
Probably surprised in a way what's been said and what's gone on, but each to their own.Scott McLaughlin
Supercars veteran Mark Winterbottom, who will mark his 500th race start this weekend, said on Thursday that "McLaughlin and Penske would win in anything at the moment".
"They're on top of their game. We've got to try and catch them," he said.
But the IRWIN Racing star said McLaughlin's results were tarnished.
"He's a good driver, and he's doing a good job out there, but every time a little thing comes up, there's no doubt it tarnishes it.
"I won in '15, and there was no ifs and buts. I went into the gala [awards night] with no dramas and you get your award.
"It tarnishes it a bit, but, again, would he have won anyway? He probably would. It's just unfortunate that sometimes things can tarnish a result.
"Rules are rules. You've got to abide by the rules."
Reynolds was typically quotable when quizzed on the subject in pit lane on Thursday morning.
"The problem is I'm always too honest. Everyone else pussies out," he said.
"Everyone's got the exact same thoughts; I don't know why they don't just say it.
"It's just how you feel. It's been an average year for everyone."
He said Supercars had to ensure more parity between the Mustangs and Commodores next year.
"Hopefully the category can do a better job of making things even and making the cars less aero-dependent so we can race a bit harder and get back to what we love: racing V8 Supercars.
"It hasn't been like that this year; it's been really ... funny. I don't even know anymore, there's been so many scandalous things going on.
"It's cool from an entertainment point of view because there's a lot to talk about, but when you're in the category it's actually disappointing."
Reynolds and McLaughlin also had a fiery confrontation in Townsville in July after the pair came together on lap one of the Sunday race.
McLaughlin said on Thursday that his second championship had brought on "a lot more judgment ... more tall-poppy stuff".
"If anything, I feel probably sorry for those guys who've obviously, and one guy in particular, been focused on our team and my car and myself.
"Any time you're winning, everyone wants to drag you down somewhat, and they'll do whatever they can to do that.
"Probably surprised in a way what's been said and what's gone on, but each to their own. Everyone conducts themselves in a way that they want to. Whether that's mature and professional begs to differ.
"Everyone says it's been a tough year, it's been this, that, a lot of judgment, whatever, but not really. It's been the best year of my life.
"I've won the most races anyone ever has, which I'm very proud of ... and then to obviously win Bathurst, the biggest race of my career, and a second championship, life's not getting much better, and I'm getting married in two weeks."
Asked how he would celebrate this weekend, he said: "I'm going to go out there and drive the thing as fast as I can, and at the end of the day I know I'm going to jump on the roof and enjoy what's been the best year of my life.
"I can't wait to get out of here and go and marry the woman of my dreams and enjoy the off-season with her."
The drivers' championship may be decided, but the teams title is still up for grabs. Penske leads Triple Eight by 116 points.
This weekend's racing will also give Newcastle motor racing supporters their first look at the Mustang, the first two-door car in the championship's history.
Light rain is forecast for Sunday. If it falls, it will be the first time the drivers have encountered a wet track in Newcastle.
Winterbottom said wet weather would make a difficult track even harder.
"It's tough enough in the dry, so it'll be cruel if it rains," he said. "From a driver's point of view, you want it to be dry, but, if I was buying tickets and a bit of rain came down, I'd be licking my lips, because that's when crashes happen and you really test the drivers."
Supercars says it will announce next year if it is extending its five-year contract to race in Newcastle.
Winterbottom hoped it would be "here for years to come".
"It's supported so well. It's been one of the biggest ones. It's such a good event, people know the race is on, it's in the heart of Newcastle. It suits our sport really well."