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Justin Ashley Leads SCAG Racing with Quarterfinal Finish at NHRA Gatornationals

Justin Ashley and his SCAG Power Equipment Toyota Top Fuel dragster rallied to a quarterfinal finish Sunday at the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

After qualifying No. 8 on his 3.719 second pass at 325.37 mph from Saturday evening, Ashley would match up with motorsports legend Tony Stewart, who made his professional Top Fuel debut, in the first round of eliminations. Both dragsters would have tire shake, forcing the drivers to pedal their way to the finish line. Ashley would get his Toyota hot rod to hook up for a 4.414 at 297.94 taking the win over Stewart’s 4.453 at 267.80.

Ashley wouldn’t be as lucky in the next round against No. 1 qualifier and eventual event winner Shawn Langdon. After leaving the starting line first, the SCAG dragster would lose traction and have to shutoff for only a 4.890 run at 157.12 while Langdon had a clean pass at 3.709 at 334.40.

“I cannot say enough good things about our team. Everyone worked incredibly hard throughout the weekend that put us in a position to turn on win lights. We fell short in round two but learned a lot and earned a quality first round win against Tony Stewart, one of the greatest drivers in motorsports,” said Ashley who leaves Gainesville Raceway sitting tied for seventh in the points. “Now we’ll shift our focus to Pomona and prepare to put our best foot forward. I can’t wait to spend more time with our SCAG dealers and join the Phillips Family in Pomona.”

Ashley’s teammate Daniel Wilkerson, who qualified No. 13, would have a solid showing in the first round of eliminations against reigning world champion Matt Hagan. Wilkerson’s 3.927-second pass at 317.12 mph would be the third quickest of the round and would have beaten all but two competitors. Unfortunately, one of those two competitors was in the other lane. Hagan would take the win with a 3.869 at 329.58.

“Not the result this SCAG Ford Mustang team wanted in the first round. It’s a tough pill to swallow going home after a 3.927 run that would have beaten nearly anybody else in the field,” Wilkerson said. “Qualifying wasn’t up to snuff, so it was the hand we were dealt. At least it was a solid run, and we made progress. We’ll just keep building on that and get ourselves ready to head west to Pomona.”

Dave Richards and the Versatran/BlueBird Funny Car team did not start on race day. With 17 cars in the field, would have benefited from a fourth qualifying session, however rain cut Saturday short. Richards qualified in the 17th spot with a 5.133 second pass at 151.97 mph.

“It was a tough couple of days for this Versatran/BlueBird Funny Car. We’re working hard, we’re learning. I wouldn’t want to be out here with any other team. These guys really have been giving it their all. The qualifying results don’t reflect that,” Richards said. “We know it’s going to take a lot more, more time, more reps on track, but we’re in it for the long haul. We’ve got a whole season. That’s almost a relief. So we’ll keep at it, and pretty soon, we’ll be getting the results.”

The SCAG Racing team continues the Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series season March 21-24 at In-N-Out Raceway at Pomona for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.

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This story was originally published on March 11, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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