Annie Whiteley’s snake-bitten J&A Service/YNot team qualified in the fast half of the field for the 12th time in 13th starts this season, but for the third race in a row was out early with a disappointing first-round loss.
At the Toyota Nationals at her best track on the NHRA circuit, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she won the first race of her career as a Top Alcohol Funny Car rookie in 2012, she fell to former Gatornationals winner Ulf Leanders in what, by the numbers, should have been the closest race of the first round.
They qualified eighth and ninth with matching 5.60s, Whiteley in the No. 8 spot with a 5.603 and Leanders No. 9 with a 5.606. Such matchups usually go to the driver with the better reaction time, which, in this case, was Whiteley, who bolted off the line first with one of her best lights of the season, an outstanding .039.
Leanders matched their qualifying times with another 5.60-flat, so Whiteley would have won with anything better than a 5.63, but she knocked the tires loose in low gear. Racing in the first pair of the first round, at the ungodly hour of 8:30 a.m., she recovered quickly and charged after him, but a 5.77 at just short of 260 mph left her J&A Service/YNot Camaro a few car lengths behind at the finish line.
By any metric, it was one of the toughest Top Alcohol Funny Car races ever held. It featured one of the biggest fields in years – 28 cars attempted to qualify – and one of the fastest, with a bump of 5.66 and former NHRA event winners in the first five alternate spots on the final qualifying ladder.
Whiteley stands seventh in the national standings, with two more races coming up at Las Vegas – the makeup of the rained-out West Region opener scheduled for April in the middle of the week while the SEMA show is going on 15 miles away, and the regularly scheduled West closer set for next weekend.