At Brainerd Int’l Raceway, where three years ago Annie Whiteley faced off against The Man himself, Frank Manzo, in the first national event final of her career, her YNot/J&A Service team had its first off weekend after months and months of one great outing after another.

Hot off back-to-back victories in Woodburn, where she annihilated both ends of the track record, and Seattle, where a dominant performance ended in the third national event title of her career, Whiteley qualified fifth in the Top Alcohol Funny Car field. The weekend began with promise when she ran a 5.68 at 261.17 mph Friday followed by a strong 5.61/261.62 later that afternoon that slotted her third in the field at the time. “We were behind on the track all weekend,” she said. “It just kept sticking the tire every time we went up there.”

Whiteley, who qualified No. 1 in five of her last seven starts (including the Jegs Allstars race), shook on her final attempt and qualified outside the top three for the first time since the West Region season opener at Phoenix way back in February. That that was no problem, though – she still landed in the fast half of the field and has won races already this year from three different rungs on the eliminator ladder.

The problem came when Whiteley’s jet-black Camaro fought for traction again in the first round of eliminations against a much tougher opponent than the No. 5 qualifier usually gets: many-time national event champ Jay Payne. In that round, which was postponed by rain from late Saturday afternoon until Sunday, Whiteley, who arrived in Minnesota ranked number 1 in the national standings, left on the eventual runner-up but slowed to an 8.59 while Payne advanced with a 5.55.

“That was a bummer, definitely,” Whiteley said. “On the first qualifier, it shook the tires almost right at the hit – I don’t know how it made it – and every time we went up there after that the car made it a little further, but we never did catch up to the track.”

Despite the unexpected early exit, Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service team enters the U.S. Nationals, the biggest race of the season, still solidly atop the Top Alcohol Funny Car standings, with almost a full-race lead (82 points) on second-place Doug Gordon.