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Justin Ashley Has Path to Championship in Pomona

As his most dominant season as a Top Fuel driver and team owner comes down to the final race of the season, the NHRA Finals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, Justin Ashley has a clear path to his first NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world championship. It is not an easy road by any means but sitting just 82 points behind point leader Steve Torrence and having 30 points per round available, plus possible qualifying bonus points a strong qualifying effort and a cooperative competition ladder could give Ashley and his Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team a legitimate shot at the world title.

“At the beginning of the season everyone says they just want to have a shot at the championship coming into the NHRA Finals at Pomona in November,” said Ashley, a six-time winner in 2023. “We have our shot and now it’s all about capitalizing on the opportunities that are ahead. We’re focused on taking it one round at a time and letting the points take care of themselves. Our best chance to win this championship is by taking care of our business and not being concerned with the variables around us.”
The past year years at the NHRA Finals Ashley has suffered first round exits at the hands of Toyota teammate and strategic technology partner Antron Brown. Conversely over the past three years at the NHRA Winternationals at the same track Ashley has raced to three consecutive final rounds winning the past two events including the 2023 edition when he was No. 1 qualifier. A weekend like that in Pomona would set Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team for major success. Over the past three Winternationals Ashley has qualified No. 7, No. 2, and No. 1.
“We have had great success at the Winternationals and we want to capture some of that magic this weekend at the NHRA Finals,” said Ashley. “I love racing in Pomona because it’s our time to be with the Phillips Family and engage with representatives and customers near their hometown. I feel like we turned our Countdown around two weeks ago and we are in a great position to finish on a high note. There is no better time and place than the World Finals to turn on win lights.”  
In Las Vegas at the NHRA Nevada Nationals Ashley started the race as the No. 6 qualifier and raced to the final round before losing a close final to Mike Salinas. Ashley defeated Dan Mercier, Austin Prock and Steve Torrence on the way to his eighth final of the year. The semifinal win over Torrence was huge to keep Ashley’s championship hopes alive.
“I think that win over Steve in the semis was the round win that kept us in the championship hunt,” said Ashley. “He is a four-time world champion and is the point leader so stopping him there was big. We could have made up some more ground with a win but now we need to stack four more round wins on our season total and see how the math works out. This has been an amazing season no matter what happens, but we are focused on winning the championship.”
In 2023 Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster have been the class leader throughout the season. They raced to eight final rounds collecting six wins and three No. 1 qualifiers. They dominated the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge collecting six wins in the specialty race that also earned him 21 championship points. Ashley entered the 2023 Countdown as the No. 1 seed but over the first four races he was unable to hold off charging competitors like Torrence, Doug Kalitta and Leah Pruett. Now facing an 82-point deficit from the top spot and a 48-point deficit from Pruett in third Ashley has his work cut out for himself.
“There are little points available throughout qualifying and 30 points per round available on raceday,” said Ashley. “We just want to get as many qualifying points as possible and then race to the best of our ability on Sunday. There are no easy rounds and the competition is stronger than it’s ever been before. We have an amazing team with these Phillips Connect guys led by Mike Green and Tommy DeLago so it will be exciting. I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Qualifying will begin on Friday November 10 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. PT with two more sessions slated for Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. PT. The quickest 16 Top Fuel dragsters will begin locking up championship positions when eliminations begin at 11 a.m. PT on Sunday. The NHRA Finals will be broadcast nationally on FS1 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. PT.

This story was originally published on November 7, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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