Perennial Top 5 driver Annie Whiteley, who won three times and reached at least the semifinals six straight times to open the season, fell in the first round for the third time in four races when traction problems set in at the Northwest Nationals. A winner in Belle Rose and Denver on the regional trail and in Charlotte on the national tour, she qualified a season-low sixth in Seattle despite an excellent 5.52, then barely made it to the Christmas Tree in the first round before she had to lift.

After an aborted 9.73 at 90 mph on her first of just two qualifying attempts for this race, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Yenko Camaro tiptoed off the starting line with a relatively tame .970 60-foot time in last-shot qualifying, charged through the middle of the course, flew through the half-track clocks at more than 212 mph, and clocked a 5.52 at just short of 270 mph. It moved her from the last spot in the field to the middle of the pack and set up a tough first-round match with Alaska’s Ray Martin, driver of 2014 world champ Steve Harker’s “International Incident” Camaro.

Whiteley was off like a shot with one of her best reaction times of the season, .048, but was out of it early when Martin, who last year won in his Top Alcohol Funny Car debut just as Whiteley had in her 2012 rookie season, negotiated the quarter-mile with a shake-free 5.57. She tromped back on the throttle and chase but clicked it off in high gear when it was clear that she wouldn’t be getting around Martin and coasted to a disappointing 6.33 at 216 mph. “I have no idea why the car would do something that,” said Whiteley, a past finalist at this event. “It’s not like the guys were trying anything crazy – we qualified in the fast half and had lane choice. It just goes to show that with these cars, you never know.”