Annie Whiteley’s late-season frustration continued at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where she’s won almost as much as all other Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers combined since picking up her first win anywhere here as a rookie in 2012. When the smoke from qualifying literally had cleared Saturday evening, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team was positioned perfectly for eliminations in the No. 2 spot, with one great run after another in their wake – a 5.527 at 267.80 mph, 5.511 at 268.92, and 5.491 at 268.71.

As it turned out, No. 2 was exactly the spot not to qualify at Vegas. For possibly the first time in alcohol racing history, the No. 15 qualifier laid down low e.t. of the meet in the first round, a 5.487 that eclipsed No. 1 qualifier Doug Gordon’s 5.488 by just a thousandth of a second. Whiteley was even quicker in the other lane, resetting low e.t. a fraction of a second after opponent Nick Januik crossed the finish line with a slightly better 5.480 at 268.93 mph (top speed of the meet). It was her bad luck to cut a respectable .088 reaction time right when Januik was knocking the Tree down with a telepathic .028.

“It just keeps happening,” Whiteley said with a sigh. “As soon as they told me what Nick ran, I said, ‘Really?’ I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When things aren’t going right, every now and then something gets in your head. I don’t know what it is – trying too hard, maybe? I know I can cut better lights, but lately it’s been getting worse, not better. An .080-something light isn’t bad, and as soon as I let the clutch out, I knew it was something decent. I just need to stop beating myself up so bad and get a little better at these last few races.”