With her third straight trip to the semifinals and a second final-round appearance in a row, Annie Whiteley solidified her hold on seventh place in the NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car standings. Glad just to be in the final here in 2013, Whiteley had a much better shot at the title this time than she did the first time around, in 2013, when she lost the first national event final of her career to the unstoppable Frank Manzo by a couple car-lengths.

The 2016 Lucas Oil Nationals final was closer – much closer. Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro came out on the wrong end of a 5.44-5.45 classic with second-ranked Jonnie Lindberg, the defending NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car champ. “At least I didn’t lose on a holeshot,” joked Whiteley, who got off the mark with a better-than-average .078 reaction time, which ended up being actually her slowest of four solid lights, including a pair of .050s.

In one of the quickest and fastest TA/FC races of all time, Whiteley became one of few drivers ever to lose with a 5.45 e.t. – though for her it was the second time in a row, including the Seattle semifinals. “Now that would have been a nice time for the other guy to screw up,” Whiteley said. “Both of us were on good runs – he was going 214 mph at half-track, and we were going 211.”

In the semifinals, Whiteley put away the driver she and Lindberg battled for the 2015 championship down to the last day of the season, John Lombardo. As in the final, both cars were locked side by side to the half-track mark, but Lombardo’s NAPA car suffered a blower explosion and Whiteley pulled away to win convincingly with another 5.4 run, a 5.47.

“Everybody asked me if I heard him blow up because it was so loud, but I didn’t,” she said. “I barely saw his front fender, just a little bit of blue out of the corner of my eye, and I thought, ‘Oh no,’ because at that point you know you’re usually not gonna get around him, but then he just disappeared.” After qualifying No. 1 in each of her last two starts, Woodburn and Seattle, Whiteley began eliminations from the No. 4 spot with a 5.52 and, as in Seattle, knocked out three 5.40s in eliminations. She stopped upstart Topeka winner Jeff Jones in a great first-round race, 5.52 to 5.55, and outran 1996 world champ Tony Bartone in an even faster second-round matchup, 5.45 to 5.50.

Two more mid-.40s in the late rounds left her just short of victory. “It was another good weekend,” said Whiteley, who now has three final-round appearances this season, “but it’s not as good as a win. No more runner-ups. Time to start winning.”