After qualifying somewhere other than No. 1 for the first time all year, Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley, who had set the pace five times in a row, earned the fifth and perhaps most satisfying national event victory of her career at the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. Starting from No. 2, Whiteley wheeled the powerful YNot Racing Camaro to one 5.40-something after another in a race-day performance that culminated in a final-round decision over recent nemesis DJ Cox that catapulted her to first place in the national standings.

With veteran crew chief, former Top Fuel pilot, and accomplished practical joker Mike Strasburg calling the shots, Whiteley reeled off 5.40s in every round to eradicate the painful memory a holeshot loss a week earlier in Richmond against the very driver she faced down in the final round this time. “This has got to be just about just the best win ever,” said Whiteley, who also scored at the national level in Chicago in 2013, Las Vegas and Seattle in 2015, and Gainesville last year. “The car was perfect all weekend – it pretty much has been all year – and it just feels so good to win a big race like this, especially after what happened last week at Richmond.”

Whiteley’s YNot team missed qualifying in the top spot for the first time all season when Swede Ulf Leanders assumed the early qualifying lead with a 5.46 and claimed it for good with a subsequent 5.42. She opened with a 5.52 and began eliminations from the No. 2 spot with a 5.46. From there, it was nothing but total domination, a string of 5.40s at 270-plus mph to trailer defending event champ Johan Lindberg, 2013-2014 winner Dan Pomponio, 2012 winner Andy Bohl, and, in the final, Cox, one of the four drivers to ever run in the 5.30s.

Whiteley established low e.t. of eliminations with a 5.43 against Pomponio, and, after an hour-plus wait to run the final following Stevie Jackson’s spectacular double-wall crash in the Pro Mod final, seemed to have everything under control until she hit the button for high gear not knowing the race was already hers. “The car just went crazy,” she said. “For a second I almost thought I was going to crash, but I stayed in it.” Her reward was a satisfying, vindicating win over Cox, who had barely beaten her on a holeshot eight days earlier in Richmond, Va.

Whiteley, who has reached at least the semifinals in all six starts this season, went the distance for the second time in 2018, including her season-opening regional win at No Problem Raceway in the swaps of Louisiana. “I didn’t try to make something happen this time,” this time. “I just trusted myself to cut a light and believed that the car would be there when it really counted, and it was.”