Steven Whiteley wrapped up the finest season of his drag racing career with a tight first-round loss at the Toyota Nationals at the fabulous Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The points leader early in the season and a contender for the J&A Service Pro Mod championship until he sat out a race late in the season to be with wife Delaina for the birth of their daughter Bayslei, Whiteley wound up seventh in the final standings after holding steady in the Top 5 almost all year.

“Fifth or seventh in the points – what does it matter if you’re not number 1?” asked Whiteley, who would’ve finished in the Top 5 either by winning one more round anywhere all year or by merely attending the one event he skipped. “Nobody will remember exactly where I ended up in the standings, but I’ll always remember where I was the day my daughter was born and nothing could ever make me miss that.”

The Vegas race was shaping up to be another solid outing for Whiteley’s YNot Racing team, from qualifying right up until high gear in the first round of eliminations. He pounded out a 5.87 to make the fast half of the program, and father Jim Whiteley, the 2016 Spring Nationals Pro Mod champ, joined him in the race day field with a 5.91. Running alongside Troy Coughlin, who clinched the championship in a thrilling second-round showdown with Mike Castellana, Whiteley clocked a 5.879 at 245.49 mph in Q2 that seeded him seventh in the field at the time. He backed it up with a nearly identical 5.883/245.05 in last-shot qualifying and entered eliminations in the No. 8 slot, pitted against the powerful turbocharged Camaro of No. 9 qualifier Harry Hruska in what theoretically should’ve been the closest race of the day.

It didn’t disappoint – the race was decided by just 8-thousandths of a second – but Whiteley had Hruska all the way until an ignition failure in high gear made his engine drop a cylinder, costing him almost 10 mph and allowing Hruska, who trailed by almost a car length at half-track, to slip by for the narrow win, 5.864/250.64 to 5.888/237.46. “No complaints,” Whiteley said. “We won our biggest race ever [March 19 at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.], led the points for a while, and won a lot of rounds. All in all, this was the best year I’ve ever had.”