Tension between the two title-chasing Red Bulls has finally boiled over, with Jamie Whincup sensationally shunting Supercars teammate Shane van Gisbergen off the track - and paying the price - in Auckland.
In an audacious move at the hairpin eighth turn at Pukekohe Park, Whincup dove in on the championship leader but only succeeded in T-Boning his rival, and losing touch with the Aucklander in the title race.
Both Commodores were sent spinning from the circuit, dropping van Gisbergen to eighth and Whincup further back as he redressed for his error.
While van Gisbergen went on to finish third, behind drought-breaking race winner Mark Winterbottom, Whincup was served a drive-through penalty to finish stone cold last.
The six-time series winner apologised after the race, with van Gisbergen accepting his remorse - but banking a 197-point championship lead.
Winterbottom claimed a first race win for Ford in 16 races, ahead of DJR Team Penske driver Scott Pye in second.
Winterbottom's win was a result of a masterly start, when he surged from the second row of the grid past van Gisbergen and Pye.
"I might be old but I do alright off the line," the reigning champion said.
Pye's second place was the best result for the cashed-up team in two seasons, while Lowndes jumped from eighth on the grid to fourth place in a result that boosts his hopes of claiming third place in the championship.
But the biggest winner in the wash-up of the action-paced race was van Gisbergen, who now holds an iron grip on a first Supercars title.
Top-10 finishes in the final three races of the season will seal a first series win for the Aucklander ahead of Whincup, his only mathematical challenger for the championship.
Team boss Roland Dane told Fox Sports he wasn't surprised to see Whincup resort to the most desperate of measures.
"It was going to happen at some point ... Jamie probably felt he had nothing to lose," he said, endorsing the tough penalty on the six-time champ.
"He's done the crime and serves the time," he said.
"The rules are that if you spin someone out you get a PLP and that's what he got."
Van Gisbergen delighted his home crowd by surging through the field despite the risk.
The Red Bulls don't have to wait long before duelling again, with Whincup and van Gisbergen starting alongside each other on the front row of the grid in the final of four races for the Auckland meet, commencing at 4:45pm (NZT).
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