Racing for the third time in a week at the same facility – her best track on the circuit, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Annie Whiteley qualified high in a field so tough that six of the eight non-qualifiers were former national event champs.
After opening with a 5.56 at 266.79 mph, Whiteley went up in smoke immediately on her second of three qualifying attempts and improved slightly to a 5.561/267.00 mph in last-shot qualifying to lock down the No. 2 spot for good. She trailed only DJ Cox, runner-up a week earlier at the Las Vegas national event, who ran slightly quicker than her (5.541 and 5.539) on side-by-side runs for the No. 1 spot.
Paired against Nick Januik, also a former winner of the Vegas national event, in round one, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot team advanced with a consistent 5.57/267.00 while Januik’s Las Vegas-based car struggled for traction in a 5.85/242 loss. It got no easier from there: all four semifinalists are currently in the Top 10 in the NHRA national standings – Whiteley (8th), Doug Gordon (3rd), Shane Westerfield (7th), and Terry Ruckman (4th). Second-ranked John Lombardo was knocked out in the first round of eliminations and 2015-16 national champ Jonnie Lindberg didn’t even qualify.
The semifinals turned out to be just as brutal as expected: the E.T.s were 5.55, 5.56, 5.57, and 5.58, at speeds from 262 to 267 mph. Whiteley was the quickest (5.555) and the fastest (267.27 mph – top speed of the meet), but came out on the wrong end of a tight 5.55-5.57 match with Gordon despite a better-than-average .078 reaction time. Gordon was off the mark first with a .051, held on to win, and defeated Westerfield in the final to sweep the last two regional events of the season and secure his first Vegas wins ever.
Whiteley finishes fourth in the toughest region in the country and currently stands eighth in the national standings with one race left on the schedule. With a victory at the season-ending Finals next weekend in Pomona, Calif., she can still make the national Top 5.