On the heels of his first win of the season team owner and Top Fuel racer Justin Ashley is heading into arguably one of the busiest weekends a defending event champion could face. Last year Ashley opened the 2022 season with a dominant win with brand-new sponsor Phillips Connect and the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year would go on to win multiple races and contend for the championship. Heading into this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip Ashley is looking to defend his Winternationals title by starting a win streak following his Arizona Nationals win. He will also be participating in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge for the first time on Saturday and will be one of the first Toyota competitors in the Top Fuel versus Funny Car Supra Showdown. The busy weekend does not scare the nearly unflappable driver and team owner.
“This is the kind of weekend you dream about,” said Ashley, a six-time Top Fuel national event winner. “I was so thrilled to win the Arizona Nationals because it was a true team effort. The weekend was very successful both on and off the racetrack. We now have momentum going into Pomona and another opportunity to collect championship points through the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. Every point counts for this Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team powered by National Debt Relief.”
Last weekend Ashley bounced back from an early exit at the Gatornationals to turn on four win lights during the final national event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. As the No. 7 qualifier he outran eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher in the first round. In four prior meetings Ashley was unsuccessful in advancing past the winningest Top Fuel driver. In the second round Ashley defeated Mike Salinas, the Gatornationals winner, and in the semifinals Ashley had to get around four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, setting up a tough final round with 2013 Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon. It was a gauntlet of tough competitors that Ashley knew was no fluke or coincidence.
“Our ladder was tough in Phoenix but there will be no easy paths to victory in Top Fuel this season,” said Ashley. “You have to bring your ‘A Game’ every round on Sunday to give yourselves an opportunity to advance. I am so proud of Mike Green, Tommy DeLago, Dustin Davis and this whole Phillips Connect team for fighting through to victory in Phoenix. But now we are focused on Pomona.”
By advancing to the semifinals in Phoenix Ashley will be competing this Saturday during qualifying in the second Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge which will be a rematch of races from the Arizona Nationals. Ashley will square off with Torrence during the second qualifier with the chance to win $10,000 and three critical championship points on the line if he is victorious over Torrence and then outruns either Langdon or Leah Pruett, the other Phoenix semifinalists, at the end of the day on Saturday.
“I am fired up for the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge because it just gets you into race mode earlier in the weekend with a chance to collect points,” said Ashley, who finished fourth in the Top Fuel standings in 2021 and 2022. “Every point counts in the Countdown so if you can start collecting them now it could pay off huge benefits at the end of the season. These rematches will also be fun for the fans.”
Prior to the qualifying session on Saturday Ashley will be participating in the Supra Showdown versus Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria in two identical Toyota GR Supras. Toyota will pit its Top Fuel drivers against its Funny Car drivers at select national events and keep a season-long tally on round wins to establish a team winner. The finale will take place in Charlotte in the fall, where Toyota will donate to the charities aligned with the winning team and drivers. For the 2023 season, Ashley is racing for the Wyakin Foundation and DeJoria is supporting Austin Pets Alive.
“I love everything about the Supra Showdown,” said Ashley. “It’s a great way to shed more light on the Supra within the NHRA community while racing for a great cause. I have been involved with the Wyakin Foundation since last season and truly appreciate all they do to support our veterans. It will be a lot of fun to race these 10-second Supras and put on a good show for the fans.”
Ashley has raced to back-to-back final rounds at the Winternationals and would like to keep that success streak going heading into this weekend. Last year he qualified No. 2 and defeated Jim Maroney, Antron Brown, Steve Torrence and Austin Prock to earn the win. In his three appearances at the Winternationals Ashley has advanced to at least the quarterfinals every race.
“I love racing at Pomona and I feel very comfortable at the track,” said Ashley. “This is home for Phillips Connect and Phillips Industries so there will be plenty of representatives at the race. Our team is looking forward to spending time with guests from Phillips Connect, KATO, National Debt Relief and all of our partners. It’s going to be an exciting weekend.”
The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by National Debt Relief will take to the track on Friday for one qualifying session followed by two more rounds on Saturday. Cool conditions could provide a quick and fast race track for Ashley and the rest of the Top Fuel field. The quickest 16 race cars will go head-to-head on Sunday for the Winternationals title beginning at 11:00 a.m. The Winternationals will be broadcast nationally on FS1 throughout the weekend.