In much tougher conditions than at Indy, where everybody was running 5.80s, Steven Whiteley qualified a season-high third at the Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway with an outstanding 5.840. He actually led qualifying at the palatial Charlotte, N.C., facility for a while and was in the No. 2 spot until the 11th hour in what turned out to be his best outing of the NHRA season.

For Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot team, it was one mid-.80 after another in qualifying – 5.87, 5.84, 5.86 – then nothing but trouble in eliminations, starting against Eric Latino in Saturday’s opening round. “I had to pedal the car to get around him,” Whiteley said. “I got aggressive, stayed in it, then blipped the throttle and got back into it and it made it down through there.”

Whiteley turned that potentially disastrous situation into a winning 5.91 at 247 mph, well ahead of Latino’s distant 6.25/204, but there was no saving it Sunday afternoon in the second round. “It started further out than it did in the first round,” he said. “I stayed in it again and hoped it would clean up, but I couldn’t catch it quick enough – when I blipped the throttle, it turned toward the wall.”

Whiteley wisely got the car straightened out before hammering the gas again, but by then opponent Todd Tutterow was long gone. “When the other guy’s laying down a 5.93 like that, there’s not much you can do,” he said. It was his first trip to the quarterfinals in 2016, but there’s still time for a late charge to the Top 10 like brother Cory Reed pulled off at Indy with his Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“The car was running well in qualifying,” said Whiteley, whose highest qualifying position this season had been No. 5 at Englishtown (5.88). “We backed it off a little on the last qualifier to get a race-day tuneup and basically left it alone for the first round, but I guess we didn’t compensate enough for the track. The thing is, we have the power to do this. All those .80s in qualifying mean we can go rounds at the last two races and still get in the Top 10 – that’s our goal.”