It didn’t end the way he ever would’ve wanted, but after suffering through probably the worst outing of his career the last time out, when he reluctantly climbed back into his Cadillac CTS-V after Todd Tutterow wiped out his Camaro at Topeka, Steven Whiteley was glad just to have his race car back. “I hated that car,” Whiteley said of the Cadillac his YNot/J&A Service team pressed into service on short notice for Norwalk. “I couldn’t get out of it fast enough. Comfort, visibility – nothing was right. I just didn’t know any better when I drove it because I’d never been in anything as nice as this car. But after one run in that thing car, I was like, ‘No way. This is just wrong.’ ”

After posting an outstanding 60-foot time of .960 Friday evening in his first official hit in the refurbished Camaro, Whiteley rattled the tires loose, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected – everybody else did, too. Saturday afternoon was a quantum leap forward, as he moved from 24th on the ladder all the way up to No. 11 with a competitive 5.87 at 246 mph. Knocked out of the field (No. 19) by the time he returned to the lanes Saturday night, Whiteley charged to a 5.82/248 that left him just short of the field, No. 17, with two sessions to go.

He couldn’t have known it at the time, but, several pairs back when Q4 began after dark Sunday night, Whiteley would never see the hallowed Indy quarter-mile again. Sunday dawned gray and rainy, and after the Pro categories got all their allotted runs, the Pro Mods weren’t in the lanes until well after 8 pm. Only two cars ever saw the Tree – Richmond winner Jose Gonzalez, who veered left across the centerline into Chad Green’s lane, and Green, who had bigger problems, smashing into the left wall at more than 190 mph and pirouetting end-over-end a full 360 degrees before crashing back to earth track right-side up with a broken back.

By the time the carnage was cleared, plummeting temperatures and a persistent mist signaled the end of Pro Mod qualifying. Canadian Eric Latino clung to the bump with a 5.819, and Whiteley, just two-thousandths of a second back with a 5.821, never got his shot. “That sucked, but I’m glad just to have this Camaro back,” he said. “After getting back in that Cadillac, I know how good this car really is.”