Perennial championship contender Annie Whiteley, who had won half the races she entered this year as she pulled through the gates of Royal Purple Raceway, suffered a frustrating and frustratingly close first-round loss at the NHRA SpringNationals.

At the same Houston track where she just short of victory with a runner-up at the 2014 race, Whiteley qualified No. 6 this year with a 5.585 and was paired against Top Alcohol Funny Car rookie Ray Martin in the first round. Whiteley picked up half a tenth in the first round, wheeling the J&A Service/YNot Camaro to an outstanding 5.53 at nearly 270 mph.

Unfortunately for her, Martin, who was 7th on the grid with an almost identical 5.587, chose that round to run an even better 5.49/264 and won by about a car-length. “That was a tough draw,” Whiteley said of Martin, whose car is owned and tuned by 2014 Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Steve Harker.

“We were in the No. 2 spot until the last qualifying session,” Whiteley said. “The car took the tires off in that session and it was, ‘See ya later.’ By the time the session was over, we were all the way down in the middle of the pack, and whenever that happens at a national event, you know you’re going to have somebody tough in the first round.”