Anxious at the prospect of making her first run since she crashed off the end of the Texas Motorplex shutdown area on Oct. 7, Annie Whiteley swapped feet at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first time in a temporary new ride. “I was nervous as hell on that first qualifying run,” she admitted. “I had two weeks to think about getting back in there, but after that first run, it was over. I was fine for the second one and totally comfortable by the third.”

It was a solid effort not just for Whiteley but for her entire team, led by crew chief Mike Strasburg, who was unfamiliar with an altogether different car than the one they’d run the past two years. “People think this is the body off Lombardo’s car,” Whiteley said of the Camaro they borrowed from two-time championship runner-ups Rick Jackson and John Lombardo. “It’s not just the body; it’s that whole car – the body, the chassis, the computer, everything except the motor, transmission, and pedals out of my car. It’s actually the same one Lombardo was driving when I raced him in the final round last year at Pomona.”

It’s built for a driver about a foot taller than Whiteley. “It’s different, I can tell you that,” she said. “And when it’s not your car, you don’t fit in there quite right, and you definitely don’t want to hurt anything because you know it’s not yours.” The team stuffed padding in the seat so she could see over the injector, and soon she was used to the new cockpit – not 100% at home, but at least comfortable enough to compete.

Eliminations didn’t last long when Whiteley came out on the wrong end of an exceptionally tight first-round match with Brian Hough, who had never beaten the YNot team in national competition. Previously 3-0 against Hough, Whiteley ran four-thousandths of a second slower than the Oregon driver for a disappointing 5.538 to 5.542 loss. “Hey, it was good just to be back out here,” she said. “We’ll get a little closer with this thing at the regional and Pomona and be back with a brand-new car for 2019.”