EVEN though his third V8 Supercars championship is almost within his grasp, Jamie Whincup isn't about to tempt fate.
The title is now Whincup's to lose after he scored another dominant win at Sandown Raceway yesterday, consolidating his commanding points lead with just two races remaining.
He can still be beaten by his Triple Eight Holden teammate Craig Lowndes, his only challenger, at the twin-race Sydney 500 at Homebush on December 3-4, making him wary of claiming the crown despite his overwhelming advantage.
Whincup leads Lowndes by 188 points, meaning he needs to finish only fourth or better in the first race in the streets around Sydney's Olympic Park in 12 days to clinch the title.
However, Whincup is all too aware of the hazards around almost every turn of Homebush's brutal temporary layout and Lowndes' ability to excel in adversity.
Despite having won two of the past three V8 championships, the nightmare of just falling short in Sydney last year and losing his title to James Courtney still haunts him.
His fear of losing is so deeply ingrained he admitted that he won't be able to relax until he is holding the championship trophy aloft.
''To lose the championship now would be devastating,'' he said. ''But it can happen. I have a bit of fear of losing it. I have to keep focused for this one.
''I have two championships [2008-09] and I've lost two [2007 and '10]. I'd rather make it 3-2 than 2-3. Anyone who thinks the championship is over is a fool. You can never count Craig out.
''I'm sure he believes that, just as I do. I'm not taking anything for granted.''
Lowndes is lucky to still be in contention after qualifying 27th - second last - for Saturday's 39-lap, 120-kilometre opening leg of the Sandown Challenge.
But while Whincup slid from pole position to finish 13th in the rain-lashed race, Lowndes put in an inspired performance, slicing through the field to sixth place, and in the process reducing his points deficit from 194 to 158.
While his 28-year-old teammate raced away, again from the pole, in yesterday's 65-lap, 200-kilometre soft-tyre sprint, the popular 37-year-old started and finished fourth to end the weekend six points closer to his intra-team nemesis.
But even the ever-optimistic Lowndes conceded that his chances of snatching his first V8 title since 1999 - and his fourth overall - were, if not hopeless, at best very slim.
''It's going to be difficult but still possible,'' he said. ''We'll keep pursuing it … while we're still in the hunt, Jamie would be very unlucky to lose it at this point.''
As well as being guaranteed the driver's championship, Triple Eight has clinched the team's championship and is also set to secure the second-tier development series trophy, which Andrew Thompson is on course to clinch at Homebush.
Unlike Saturday's chaotic contest in the wet, yesterday's race in dry, sunny weather was a tame affair at the front.
Whincup was in command throughout despite the dogged pursuit of the Ford Performance Racing Falcon duo of Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison, who continued the factory-backed team's recent return to consistent podium placing contention.
They held off Lowndes, who took the first of the two pit stops for fuel and tyres early to get clear of Shane Van Gisbergen, who was holding him up.
But the tactic backfired when a longer final stop than Davison cost Lowndes the final podium position.
Winterbottom now has a firm grip on third place in the championship.