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Proof of protege Payne’s progress

MATT Payne is hitting his straps in ominous fashion for Supercars rivals.

Last year’s lead rookie Broc Feeney transformed into a championship contender in 2023, and Payne is trending in a similar way.

Raw speed has never been a concern for the Grove Racing young gun.

That was abundantly clear when he qualified on the front row for his first ever Super2 race, in November 2021.

What also was immediately obvious was he was a tad rough around the edges in racing mode.

That still might be somewhat true, given he has lost positions in 19 of 26 races this year.

But there’s two things to consider which paint a far more positive picture.

First, Payne has been qualifying exceptionally well. He is the only Supercars Championship driver to have started each of the past seven races from inside the top eight.

The #19 Penrite Mustang on the front row of the grid at the Gold Coast 500. Pic: Supplied/Mark Horsburgh

Second, he’s been chalking up points at an increasingly impressive rate.

Payne is ranked fourth in terms of championship points accrued across the past four rounds.

Championship combatants Brodie Kostecki and Shane van Gisbergen are way out in front. Next is Anton De Pasquale with 722 points from The Bend, Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast – and then it’s Payne on 718.

That run of form has helped the 21-year-old surge back up the standings to 14th, with just the Adelaide finale to come.

“We were very confident that say from Townsville onwards, Matt would start to find his stride – and he did. He qualified second before the Shootout there,” team co-owner Brenton Grove told V8 Sleuth.

“Sydney, he struggled a little bit but it wasn’t necessarily him, and at every round from there he has kind of been as fast or faster than Dave (Reynolds, teammate).

“That’s why we put him in the car; people are starting to see what we saw quite early.

“But he has got a long way to go as well and that’s really exciting.”

Payne will have a new teammate next year in Richie Stanaway, who’ll be greeted with a brand-new Gen3 chassis.

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