Who knows why, but Annie Whiteley’s first race of the year always seems to end with a thud. The fifth-year Top Alcohol Funny Car star fell in the first round at the Lucas Oil Series Western Regional opener for the third year in a row, but at least it wasn’t like 2015, when she was plagued by tire-shake all weekend in Phoenix, or especially 2014, when a frightening tire explosion obliterated the whole back left of her car in Houston.

“I don’t know what it is about the first race of the season,” said the YNot/J&A Service driver. “We always seem to have crappy luck, except in 2012 at Vegas, where they kept sending me down the track and we just kept winning.” This one got off to a promising start when Whiteley assumed the early qualifying lead with a 5.61 at more than 260 mph after a successful two-day test the week before the race. “That might’ve been the best test we ever had – four-for-four on Monday, and two-for-two on Thursday. We usually suck in testing and do a lot better in the race.”

Not this year. Whiteley went up in smoke early in the second qualifying session, lost traction even sooner in in the last session, and settled into the number 6 spot for eliminations – two spots higher than last year, when she was on the bump. “The car didn’t make it two feet on that last run,” she said. “We kept wondering why it got so aggressive all of a sudden. No idea why. Sometimes, you’re not gonna know why.”

The car was calmed down for the first round of eliminations – too calmed down, as it turned out. “We made it down the track, but not fast enough,” said Whiteley, who dropped a 5.56/264 to 5.65/258 match against veteran Steve Gasparrelli. “The guys are going back over everything, and we’ll be back,” Whiteley said, and history suggests that they will.

The YNot team rebounded from a disastrous outing at Houston in 2014 to reach the final at the national event there a month later, and last year the team went on to win multiple national events, another regional championship, and led the national standings until the last day of the season.