Annie Whiteley qualified No. 1 for the third race in a row, but for the second straight time her J&A Service/YNot Racing team struggled off the line in the opening round of eliminations and suffered an upset loss.

“Maybe we shouldn’t qualify No. 1 anymore,” joked Whiteley, who was also No. 1 at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, last season. “I don’t know what’s going on, I really don’t. We did about four different things to make sure the car didn’t shake the tires on that run, and it did it anyway. It’s the same thing that happened in Denver, and we still don’t know why.”

Whiteley charged off the starting line with a slight lead on rookie Chris King, a newly licensed Chicago fireman who was making his national event debut, but the lead didn’t last long. Her car went into violent shake, slowed to a troubled 12.44 at 78 mph, and King was long gone. Even though his fire bottles discharged around half-track and he had to lift, King had enough momentum to coast to an unlikely win in by far the biggest upset of the entire event.

“It’s disappointing, but what are you going to do?” Whiteley said. We’ll keep testing, and we’ll get this thing figured out.”

Qualifying, as has been the case almost all year, was a huge success. Whiteley was No. 1 for the second year in a row at this race and for the third time in a row this season, including Houston, where she reached the semifinals, and Denver.

Whiteley paced the field with a 5.531, the exact same e.t. that was good for the top spot last year, right down to the thousandth of a second. Her speed was within 0.05 mph of the 266.16-mph blast she ran for top speed last year.

Heading into the West regional at Woodburn Dragstrip just outside Portland, Ore., Whiteley is tied for 14th in the national standings, 52 points outside the Top 10.