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Justin Ashley Heads to Charlotte Focused on Building Championship Momentum

With five races remaining in the 2023 NHRA Countdown Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team are in a tight battle for their first world championship. Throughout the season Ashley held either the No. 1 or No. 2 position in the Top Fuel point standings and heading into the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year, is just seven points off the lead. Three rounds of qualifying and a solid race day could propel Ashley back into the points lead and the fourth-year pro is focused on taking it one round at a time.

“Our Phillips Connect Toyota team performed very well at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Reading last weekend,” said Ashley, who finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed. “We came up just short in a close race but gathered a lot of data and information that we can apply in Charlotte. We’re looking at each round in its own sphere and trying to regain our number one position in points as a result.” 
During the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series regular season Ashley raced to six Top Fuel wins and seven final rounds. He also picked up wins at six Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenges throughout the season. The number of win lights Ashley turned on in both events made him the category leader and gave the driver who has finished fourth in the Top Fuel point standings the previous two years’ experience and perspective coming into the playoffs in 2023.
“Our approach is going to stay the same throughout the entirety of the countdown regardless of the results,” said Ashley, who was the No. 1 qualifier at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. “We are in this position for a reason. We have a process and routine that works well for us. Mike Green, Tommy Delago and the team are focused and eager to get back to zMax Dragway.”
Ashley started his career in 2019 at the “Bellagio of Drag Strips” located just north of downtown Charlotte. In his first career start at the Betway Carolina Nationals four years ago Ashley raced to the semifinals turning heads and announcing he was going to be a serious contender. In 2021 he raced to another semifinal finish from the No. 6 spot and last year as the No. 1 qualifier he took three win lights before bowing out in the finals. He moved into the points lead at the time with that effort. Over his past three appearances, including two four-wide national events Ashley has qualified No.1, No. 1 and No. 2 so the opportunity to get off to a fast start is available this weekend.
“We have had a quick and fast race car at zMax Dragway the past two years and I feel confident that we can continue that trend,” said Ashley. “Everyone on this team works really well together and it shows on the racetrack. We are going to continue concentrating on ourselves and finding ways to improve.” 
This season has seen Ashley rise to the top of the Top Fuel category in both on-track race car performance and Ashley driving skill. Once again, he has led the class with strong reaction times and a deft touch behind the wheel of his 11,00-horsepower Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster. The young driver and team owner knows that seat time, consistency and patience are the three keys to success on race day.
“I try and do everything the same whether it is a qualifying run, a bye run or the first round of eliminations,” said Ashley. “You only get so many opportunities every weekend to hit the tree and I want to take advantage of every chance. We only have three qualifying runs this weekend in Charlotte so that Friday night session is critical. We want to be really high in the field so we can get aggressive on Saturday.”
In addition to the single round of qualifying on Friday Ashley will be rooting for his Toyota Top Fuel teammate Antron Brown in the Supra Showdown race. Throughout the season Toyota Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers have been battling it out in head-to-head races in high performance Toyota Supras. After 12 races the series is tied at six wins apiece and Brown will race Funny Car driver Ron Capps for all the marbles and serious donation to each category’s charity of choice. If the Top Fuel driver prevail Ashley’s donation will go to the Wyakin Foundation.
“This Supra Showdown has been a lot of fun and I will be up on the starting line pulling for Antron to bring the win home for all the Top Fuel drivers,” said Ashley. “There are a lot of deserving charities involved and I want to thank Toyota for putting this program together. It was a blast to race the Supras during the regular season.”
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team will open qualifying on Friday at 7 p.m. ET followed by two qualifying sessions on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. ET. The 16 quickest Top Fuel dragsters will begin battling for championship points at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday with FS1 broadcasting the race that afternoon.

This story was originally published on September 21, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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