With her quickest run all year and the fourth-fastest speed of all time, Annie Whiteley qualified No. 1 for the third time in four races. Her Mike Strasburg-tuned YNot/J&A Service Camaro shot off the line with a .935 60-foot time, blasted through the 330-foot timers in 2.44 seconds, and hit the half-track mark in 3.59 seconds at more than 216 mph. She crossed the finish line two seconds later at 274.44 mph and now owns the fastest, second-fastest, and fourth-fastest time slips in Top Alcohol Funny Car history.

That 5.38 under the lights Friday night at Virginia Motorsports Park paced easily the toughest Division 1 field of the season, one fortified by the presence of three western invaders – her, former world champion Shane Westerfield, and 2018-19 U.S. Nationals runner-up Chris Marshall. Those three qualified 1-2-3, but past East Region champs Matt Gill, Dan Pomponio, and D.J. Cox were right on her wheelie bars with otherwise outstanding times in the 5.40s.

“The guys told me when they buckled me in for that run that it was either going to haul ass or not go anywhere at all,” Whiteley said. “I believed them, too – they don’t say that too often.” As the No. 1 qualifier, Whiteley was scheduled to race the slowest driver in the field, No. 8 Joshua Haskett, but Haskett blew up his only engine in the final qualifying session, opening the door for the only other entrant, Melinda Green. She made herself ineligible by plowing over the top-end cones on both of her qualifying attempts, nullifying a 5.87 in the right lane that ended with one rear wheel in each lane and a subsequent 5.83 in last-shot qualifying that also had top-end cones flying.

With no one to race when eliminations commenced, Whiteley swung for the fences on her first-round single and came up empty, quietly advancing to the semifinals with a 10.29 at 84 mph. It all came crashing down after that when she was upended by Gill, the eventual winner, 5.49 to a coasting 7.62 at 126 mph. “We didn’t change tires soon enough,” she explained. “The first and second round were the 36th and 37th runs on that set, and I guess 36 runs was one run too many.”