With the Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster are in a strong position to make a run at sweeping the historic Western Swing. Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year, has raced to three consecutive final rounds heading into the Mile-High Nationals at historic Bandimere Speedway and has also collected the past two Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge specialty race victories. His lone loss in the month of June was the final round of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk. The standout driver and team owner has a category-leading four wins and four Mission Challenge victories to his credit this season as the NHRA Camping World Series heads to the three race in three weekends Denver, Seattle and Sonoma stretch.
“We have had a strong start the season, but that’s all in the past and our focus is on the Western Swing,” said Ashley, a nine-time Top Fuel national event winner. “This three-race stretch is one of the most critical portions of the NHRA regular season. The competition in Top Fuel is tougher now than ever before and teams are really hitting their stride. You’ll see a lot of close racing at three great locations with passionate and excited fans.”
The last time a Top Fuel team swept the swing was 2009 when Ashley’s technology and development teammate Antron Brown won Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma. Only five Top Fuel drivers have swept the three-race gauntlet and two of them will be battling Ashley this season when Brown and Tony Schumacher look to become the first two-time Swing sweepers.
“The common denominator with drivers who have swept the swing is the outstanding teams they have had behind them,” said Ashley. “This is the ultimate team sport, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with our Phillips Connect Toyota Racing team. The leadership of Dustin Davis, Mike Green and Tommy DeLago is second-to-none and our partnership with the Maynard family has created a renewed sense of growth and stability.”
This will be Ashley’s second visit to Bandimere Speedway as a Top Fuel competitor. Last year in his Denver debut he qualified No. 2 and raced to the semifinals before losing to eventual Mile-High Nationals winner Leah Pruett. It was a strong first effort on the mountain for the young driver and team owner.
“Racing on the mountain at Bandimere Speedway unique,” said Ashley, “The facility is beautiful, and the setting is so nice it’s in a category of its own. I am sad to see such a great track go away. But I am very grateful for all the Bandimere family has done to support the NHRA community. Racing in high altitude is tricky so anything can happen. The sold-out crowd is going to be in for a fun weekend.”
The first race of the 2023 Western Swing will also be the final NHRA national event at Bandimere Speedway. After 65 years of operation the Bandimere family announced they would be selling the property and possibly looking at other locations in the Denver area. Ashley recognizes that their contribution to the sport helped create a marketing and competitive environment for him to pursue his dream.
“We have national and global marketing partners that participate in NHRA drag racing because of the events that the Bandimere family has promoted and created over the past 60 years,” said Ashley. “From KATO Fastening Systems to Toyota to Phillips Connect, Mac Tools, Lucas Oil, Strutmasters and so many more, these companies get tremendous value and exposure from participating with our team at events like this. Our sport is growing so fast and our TV ratings on FOX are climbing because we get to race at some of the best facilities in the country in front of tens of thousands of fans. I want to thank the Bandimere for their support.”
With fan engagement at an all-time high for Ashley the driver of the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster will have another busy weekend. He will be racing for his category leading fifth Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge title which will include a fan autograph session on Saturday at the Mission Food display in the pits. He will also be signing autographs for fans in the Top Eliminator Club and will be participating in the pre-race festivities. The team will have four qualifying runs over Saturday and Sunday looking to position themselves as high as possible in the 16-car elimination bracket on Sunday.
“I love weekends like this where you have four qualifying runs, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and lots of fan interaction,” said Ashley. “It keeps me in a really focused mindset and I think your energy stays up all weekend. There is nothing better than making a good run and coming back to the Phillips Connect Toyota pit area and seeing all our hospitality guests and fans at the ropes super excited.”
The final Mile-High Nationals will begin qualifying on Friday, July 14 with two qualifying sessions, 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. followed by two sessions on Saturday, July 15, at 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. with final eliminations beginning on Sunday, July 16, at 11 a.m. MDT. The race will be televised nationally on FOX.