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Justin Ashley Leaves Seattle With Quarterfinal Finish

Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma rolled into Pacific Raceways looking to build some momentum in the middle of the historic NHRA Western Swing. The Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals offered Ashley the chance to get back to sea level and more consistent racing conditions. After three rounds of qualifying Ashley headed in to race day as the No. 3 qualifier on the strength of his final qualifying pass. In the last session Ashley’s Phillips Connect Toyota dragster made the quickest run of the session and jumped the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year from the No. 7 spot to the No. 3 position and first round race with eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher.

In a monster match-up Ashley and Schumacher left the starting line together and it was the Phillips Connect dragster making the more powerful pass getting to the finish line in 3.740 seconds at 327.82 mph ahead of Schumacher’s 3.785 second run at 326.71 mph. The win propelled Ashley into the second round and race against Denver winner Clay Millican.
Millican and Ashley were each looking to keep a unique streak alive as they pulled up to the starting line. Every time each driver has advanced out of the first round of competition, excluding the four-wide national events, they have raced to the final round this season. Ashley held a four out of five wins record in finals and Millican was two for two.
Ashley, true to form as the best leaver in the category was first off of the starting line with a .057 reaction time and the Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Okuma was flying to the finish. As Ashley closed in on the 1,000 marker the Goodyears slicks on his 11,000-horsepower dragster began to lose traction robbing the points leader of much needed momentum. The door was opened for Millican to get around him at the finish line for the win.
“It’s a tricky racetrack. Throughout the weekend a lot of cars, ourselves included, started to spin the tires down the racetrack and we tried to do everything we could to prevent that from happening,” said Ashley. “That’s just a part of racing. We obviously wanted to go out there and make it solid A to B run and give Clay a run for his money, but we came up a little short. Mike Green, Tommy DeLago and our team are the best in the business. We learned from it and we’ll move on to Sonoma.”

The second race in two weeks takes its toll on all the teams but the experience has become more manageable for Ashley. This is the championship contender’s third swing and he is handling the grueling travel and back-to-back races much better.
“The swing is a different animal,” said Ashley. “You have three races in row on the West Coast, and now that I’ve done it a few times, I feel more comfortable myself and I know that we have plenty of guys who have done it multiple times before. This was a good event for our Phillips Connect team from our visit to Harbor Food Services on Friday to spending time with all our hospitality guests over the weekend.”
After the second round exit Ashley was back in his pits reviewing the run with his crew chiefs and helping his team prepare for the move down the coast to Sonoma. The fan-favorite driver was also spending time on the pit ropes signing autographs and posing for photos with his supportive fan base.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t win, but when you come back to the pits and you see kids, adults and NHRA fans waiting at the ropes for a picture or an autograph, it really puts things in perspective,” said Ashley. “I have a lot of gratitude, just to be able to live out a dream and do it with a team and marketing partners that are like family. It’s best to have a short memory in this sport and appreciate the opportunities that present themselves at the racetrack.”
The Phillips Connect Toyota team will be back in action Friday night at Sonoma Raceway with two qualifying sessions. On Saturday the team will get two more runs to try and secure their second No. 1 qualifier of the season. One Sunday Ashley will be chasing his fifth Top Fuel national event win of the season when eliminations begin at 10:30 a.m. PST. The race will be televised nationally on FOX.

This story was originally published on July 23, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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