Until the light turned green in the first round of eliminations, the debut of Steven Whiteley’s immaculate ’18 Camaro at the Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kan., couldn’t have gone much better. The Jerry Haas-built beast’s first official run was a 5.84 at 251 mph that gave Whiteley the provisional qualifying lead, and after 16 cars had run he was still on top. Next came a better 5.80-flat, a 5.81 that was low for that entire session, and finally a 5.78 that landed him No. 2 of 24 cars on the final grid.

Then came the first round of eliminations, when Whiteley lost traction and Pro Mod veteran Todd Tutterow stepped up dramatically from his 15th-best qualifying time to a 5.80. Whiteley, a winner last year in Gainesville, shoved the clutch in and coasted to a 7.27 at 137 mph while Tutterow disappeared in the distance, bringing a disappointing end to what had been a promising debut.

“We made one full run at St. Louis after leaving Haas’ shop, loaded it up, and went to Topeka and ran that .84 off the trailer,” Whiteley said. “I really can’t complain about a weekend like this with a brand-new car, and I’m still trying to figure out how to drive it – it’s so different from the old car. I can see better, for one thing, but the biggest thing is that it has auto-shift. The old car was the last one out there with a clutch and no auto-shift. I hate auto-shift – it’s boring. You drive the car and it shifts itself and it just seems like, as a driver, you should be doing more. I wish they’d make it a rule that the driver has to shift the car himself, but there’s no rule and this thing shifts at exactly the right time every time, so there’s really no choice.”