Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley was out early at theoretically the toughest race of the season, the prestigious Jegs Allstars, held this year in conjunction with the granddaddy of them all, the U.S. Nationals.

Shifted to Indianapolis from its originally scheduled June date in Chicago, the invitation-only race-within-a-race attracted the biggest names in the country – just about everybody but the two biggest: 2018-19 NHRA world champion Sean Bellemeur and yearlong 2020 points leader Doug Gordon. Eliminations had to be wedged into an already jam-packed U.S. Nationals schedule, and Allstar drivers got just a single qualifying attempt because all eight were seeded into the starting lineup anyway.

Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing team made the most of its one shot with a businesslike 5.56 at 267.22 mph, top speed of the event to that point and good for No. 3 on the grid and a first-round matchup with former East Region champ DJ Cox. Whiteley, the defending Central Region Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, had lane choice and seemingly had the upper hand, but when she rolled in to stage, Cox uncharacteristically took several seconds to follow her into the beams, which, with the engines screaming at 7,500 rpm and her red-hot clutch getting tighter and tighter, felt to her like several minutes.

“I sat there for a while – 4 or 5 seconds, according to the computer,” Whiteley said. “As high as we’re leaving now, it’s hard to hold it that long.” Right as she shoved down on the clutch pedal to keep the car from creeping through the beams for an automatic disqualification, Cox lit the fourth and final light and the Tree came down. She was caught off guard, and the Maryland driver opened a noticeable lead in low gear and advanced with low e.t. of the round, 5.51. Whiteley streaked to a 5.54 – quicker than anybody but Cox ran that round – at a speed of 269.78 mph (top speed of not just that round or of the Allstars competition, but of the entire weekend), but by then the race was lost.