Just across the river from downtown St. Louis in Madison, Ill., Rookie of the Year candidate Cory Reed enjoyed his finest outing to date at the AAA Nationals at multipurpose Gateway Motorsports Park.

Reed’s Star Racing/YNot Buell got faster run after run in qualifying kept it up well into eliminations, where he advanced to the semifinals for the second time in his career and the second time in the past three races. At Indy, the last race of the regular season, a clutch semifinal performance catapulted Reed into the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. This time, it helped him climb to a career-high ninth in the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle standings, just ahead of two-time world champ Matt Smith.

“The bike ran good all weekend, until the semi’s,” said Reed, who fell just short of his first final-round appearance when his machine inexplicably slowed a full tenth of a second opposite eventual winner Jerry Savoie. “Something tightened up somewhere – a bearing or the brakes or something was hung up. I could feel it.”

It was a storybook weekend up to that point, with a quicker E.T. showing up on the Gateway scoreboards five times in a row. Reed got things rolling with a 6.951 and a 6.915 on Friday and improved to a 6.910 and a finally a 6.884 that locked up a spot in the fast half of the field for the third time in the past four races.

Reed, who beat L.E. Tonglet in Chicago and lost to him last week in Chicago, put away the former world champ in the opening round with an even quicker 6.873, the second-quickest official run of his career. The bike finally slowed in the quarterfinals, but not nearly enough to cost Reed the round against two-time world champ Eddie Krawiec, the second-ranked rider in the NHRA standings heading into the playoffs and runner-up for the 2015 championship.

“I figured he’d press the Tree,” said Reed of their first head-to-head meeting ever. “Nothing’s ever been said – it was all cordial, all good – but there’s an unspoken beef between the Harley guys and us and I really wanted to cut a teen light on him.” He did, with a .016 reaction time that gave him a two-hundredths advantage going by the Tree, an edge he maintained all the way to the finish line for a 6.921 to 6.925 win, the biggest of his young career.

The rookie was finally toppled in the semifinals, when his bike slipped to a 7.02 – well short of Savoie’s winning 6.92. “Everything else was good early – our 60-foot time and 330-foot times even better than his,” said Reed, who’s now just two points out of eighth place and one round out of seventh. “I have blinders on my helmet, so I can’t really tell if I’m ahead or behind unless the other guy’s way out there, but somewhere before the finish line, I saw him ahead of me. That’s OK. Getting to the semi’s is great. That’s twice now. Now they know we can do it.”