LAS VEGAS --
Jim, who locked up the national championship with his victory at last week's Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas, clinched the regional title with his fifth final and fourth win of the season. After a final-round loss to Ray Martin at the Phoenix opener, he won the next four - Denver, Tulsa, and now both the spring and fall Las Vegas races.
Whiteley, who set top speed last week with three 271-mph runs, topped 271 in all three rounds of this race, too, including a 272.34-mph blast (top speed of the meet) in a 5.27 (low e.t.) first-round win over two-time 2013 winner Shawn Cowie's otherwise excellent 5.35 at 266.
Whiteley's 5.28 in the semi's stopped incoming West Region points leader Chris Demke, who finished second to Whiteley in both the regional and national standings this year. Demke was off like a shot with a .030 reaction time and was in it until about the 1,000-foot mark, where a blown engine slowed him to a 5.49 at just 212 mph. He had stayed alive for the regional title with a 5.41 first-round win over Martin, who also was in contention for the regional championship on the final day of the season.
Bateman, the only A/Fuel driver in the race after round one, got off the line four-thousandths of a second ahead of Whiteley in the final, .049 to .053, but he needed a six-thousandths lead. Whiteley, competing for the second-to-last time in his Alcohol Dragster career, outran him by five-thousandths, 5.317 to 5.322, to get there first by less than a foot.
Nineteen drivers fought for eight qualifying spots, and seven of the qualifiers were at least in the 5.30s. Rookie Ashley Sanford (5.42), former Division 1 champ Dan Mercier (5.43), 2011 world champ Duane Shields (5.44) and Don St. Arnaud (5.46), who was runner-up here last year and at the spring race here, just missed McKernan's 5.42 bump time.
Top Alcohol Funny Car was even tougher, with a 5.66 bump after the first qualifying session and a record 5.62 bump by Clint Thompson when it was all over. Fifteen drivers attempted to qualify, everybody ran at least a 5.76, and three drivers missed the cut despite running 5.60s, including incoming West Region points leader Steve Gasparrelli (5.68), who lost the regional championship by not qualifying.
Whiteley qualified No. 2 in what has to be the toughest divisional/regional field of all time. Six of the eight qualifiers - Whiteley, Payne, Tony Bartone, Shane Westerfield, John Lombardo, and Thompson - have won national events in the past year, and the other two - Sweden's Ulf Leanders and Australia's Steve Harker - were making their first NHRA appearances of the season. Leanders qualified No. 3 behind Bartone (5.56) and Whiteley (5.57) with a 5.58 at 261.88 mph, top speed to that point. He upped that mark to 263.26 mph in a first-round win over Westerfield, who broke behind the line. Whiteley beat Lombardo in the next pair, 5.63 to 5.77, and Bartone, who ran two 5.57s and a 5.56 in qualifying, slipped to a 5.67 and fell to Thompson.
Whiteley brought Leanders' outstanding weekend to a close with a holeshot win in the semi's, 5.596 to 5.595. In the final, she ran her career record in regional competition at her favorite track to a perfect 12-0 with an even closer win over Payne, who got away first and made by far his best run of eliminations, 5.63, but fell a few feet short of Whiteley's second straight 5.59.
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