Finally, something to smile about.

In the midst of a disappointing 2018 campaign for the defending world champion in Top Fuel, Brittany Force has been left searching for little victories as she sits marred in ninth place with only one win and a handful of round wins in her repeat bid.

But on Saturday, Force gave her team something to build on with her second No. 1 of the season - both coming at zMAX Dragway - as she drove the Advance Auto Parts/Monster Energy dragster to the top spot at the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals.

“We are looking good going into race day tomorrow,” Force said. “Our team has really been struggling all year in qualifying, only getting the car down to the other end one or two runs. But we have made some changes over the last few weekends. We front-halved the car and took it out last weekend and got past first round. This weekend, I am really hoping we are going to turn a corner.

“We made four consistent runs down the race track and on that last run we went to No. 1 so this Advanced Auto Parts team is really happy. I have to thank my crew chiefs Alan Johnson, Brian Husen and all of my guys. They have been working around the clock and I’d like to get us all in the winner’s circle.”

Force earned her second No. 1 of the season and 10th of her career with a 3.700-second pass at 330.72 mph in the fourth and final qualifying session on Saturday. She drove around Steve Torrence, who held the top spot after day one, as the current points leader dropped a spot to second with a 3.704 at 331.53 mph. Clay Millican was third with a 3.718 at 321.73 mph.

Mike Salinas (3.720) and Doug Kalitta (3.727) round out the top five.

Now Force, whose last win came back in April, will look to advance more than one round since that win at Houston, earning only six round wins over her last 16 races.

“A win would be huge. Our last win was in Houston and that seems like forever ago,” Force said. “There are three races left and every driver wants to end on a good note. And where we are in points, we want to move up that ladder as much as we can. With three races left there is still hope for us and we are going to climb it as much as we can.”

While Force hasn’t enjoyed the kind of season she had hoped for in her repeat bid, there are small gains she is proud of. None more, of course, than the incremental gains this team has made in qualifying over the past weekends as she tries to position the team on the right path to end strong in 2018 and set them up for another strong run next year.

“We always seem to do good in cool conditions and all summer long it has been super hot and that is where we have been struggling,” Force said. “We did make quite a few changes to our car coming into last weekend and these cool conditions are what every driver and every crew chief wants. We seem to lay down some good numbers and securing that top spot is pretty big for our team.”

Force, who has fallen out in the first round in three of her last four races, will face Audrey Worm in round one on Sunday.