Annie Whiteley, the defending event champ who made the first national final of her illustrious career here in a memorable 2012 match with the greatest Top Alcohol Funny Car driver of all time, Frank Manzo, bowed out in the quarterfinals this time. “I’ve always liked this race – not because we won it last year but because my first ever final was right here,” she said. “I still remember the whole thing – it was like I was watching somebody else. Backing up from the burnout in the final, it hit me: That’s Frank Manzo over there.”

Whiteley was stopped two rounds short of a third career Lucas Oil Nationals final when eventual winner Shane Westerfield nipped her in a close quarterfinal match, 5.559 to 5.572. “I knew that that was going to be a tough one,” she said. “It’s Shane Westerfield – everybody knows how good he is on the lights. Before we ran, he told me, ‘Don’t make me look stupid up there,’ and I was like, ‘Don’t you make me look stupid. Try not to cut another .012 light, OK?’ I really thought saw the Tree well when we left and it felt like a good light, but I guess it wasn’t. I was really disappointed when I saw that it was a .111. It sure didn’t feel like a .111.”

By then, Whiteley had already pounded nemesis Scott McVey in the first round of eliminations, 5.55 to 5.64. She qualified the YNot/J&A Service Camaro solidly with a tamed-down 5.60-flat at 266.53 mph that just missed top speed of the meet and outran McVey, the surprise 2014 Brainerd winner, in the opening round before falling to fellow championship contender Westerfield in round two. “I’ve handed McVey the win a couple times so I was glad to get around him,” she said. “He only runs a few times a year but he’s beat me more than once, so I really wanted that one. We qualified OK but nowhere near where we should have. Anything that ever worked on the old car just doesn’t work on this car. They’ve been fighting this thing all year. I don’t know what it is – it’s just finicky.”