With a third final-round appearance in her last four races, Annie Whiteley, who had swept the Las Vegas regional and national events on back-to-back weekends, kept her bid for a Top Alcohol Funny Car national championship very much alive.

Back on the mountainside at her home track, picturesque Bandimere Speedway, Whiteley outran everybody in qualifying, which was saying a lot at this race – two-thirds of the drivers in the field were former national event winners. She qualified No. 1 with an off-the-trailer 5.80, and it’s a good thing she did – there were just two qualifying sessions, and her YNot Racing/J&A Service Camaro had to be pushed off the starting line after the burnout on her second attempt.

In the first round of eliminations, opposite Nick Januik in a matchup of the last two spring Vegas winners, Whiteley charged to low e.t. of the meet to that point, won handily, 5.76 to 5.92, and earned the semifinal bye. A consistent 5.81 on that run seemed to set her up well for the final against Lombardo, who was right there with a 5.77, but when the light turned green in the final, all hell broke loose in both lanes.

Whiteley went right up in smoke, but so did Lombardo, and the race was on. Any other up-on-smoke pass in her entire career would have meant an easy win for Lombardo, but she made him work for this one.

“I learned something that time,” she said. “I’ve always been told that if the car shakes, just stay out of it. And I always have. But that time…I don’t know. I guess that little competitive edge that you have inside you kicks in and you feel like you’ve got to keep trying because you’re in the final. So I got back on it.”

Whiteley got the car calmed down, tromped back down on the throttle and legged it to the finish line for an 8.04 at 211 mph, but Lombardo got there first with a 7.48 at just 160 mph. “That’s OK,” she said. “I learned something. I did something I didn’t know I could do. And this year’s already been a lot better than last year.”