Annie Whiteley, half of the quickest side-by-side race (5.37-5.38) in Top Alcohol Funny Car history here in 2017 and victimized by the only crash of her career here last year, experienced no such drama in 2019. She ended up No. 2 on the final grid and established top speed of the meet (271.19 mph) in qualifying but, foiled by a lousy first-round draw, didn’t last long in eliminations.

After blowing the tires off immediately in first-shot qualifying Friday afternoon, Whiteley rebounded with an outstanding 5.45/271 that evening that earned the YNot Racing/J&A Service team the provisional pole. The near-perfect run (.945 in 60 feet, 2.47 to the 330-foot mark, and 3.64 at 213.81 mph at half-track) eventually was good for the No. 2 spot, which is exactly where you want to land on an 11-car ladder – usually.

Not this time. “In an 11-car field, No. 1 gets a bye run in the first round but No. 2 gets one in the semifinals, which is when you really want it because by then you’re probably running a much faster car,” Whiteley explained. Only this time, the 11th and last driver in the lineup was one of the last people she’d want to face: Brian Hough, who led the national standings for much of 2019. Overnight rains pushed back the entire schedule and cancelled last-shot qualifying Saturday morning, denying Hough and crew chief Jonnie Lindberg one last chance to atone for their aborted runs in the first two sessions.

Instead, Lindberg and Hough got their act together in the first round of eliminations – right when Whiteley was in the other lane. He got off the line first and managed a 5.56 to hold off Whiteley’s quicker 5.51 by the almost invisible margin of 16-thousandths of a second. “I was mad at myself when they told me it was a holeshot,” she said. “He kinda left me sitting there for a while, but I still should have cut a better light – it didn’t actually feel that bad. We’re going to work on the clutch pedal before Vegas – hopefully that’ll help.”