At the halfway point of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel powered by Okuma team have experienced the best of times and the worst of times. There has been almost zero middle ground for the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year. Through ten races the team has five final round appearances and four first round losses. In those five final round Ashley has collected four Top Fuel wins, already a season career high, and he has competed in five Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenges and is undefeated collecting $50,000 and 15 championship points for the effort. He has the Top Fuel point lead and is looking to bounce back from a tough first round loss in Denver this weekend at Pacific Raceways.
“This season has been a rollercoaster for sure. It has been a little bit of feast or famine,” said Ashley. “But the ups and downs are to be expected with a Top Fuel field that’s so competitive. The most important thing is that we remain singularly focused on becoming the best team that we can be. All things considered, we’ve had a lot of success and that’s a tremendous testament to the teamwork, dedication and commitment from each one of our guys.”
During the first ten races of the season Ashley’s skill behind the wheel contributed to several critical wins with his reaction time prowess turning on win lights for the Phillips Connect Toyota powered by Okuma team. Ashley leads the Top Fuel category with best reaction time and also it is a rare occasion when the young driver is not first off the starting line.
“Reaction times are a reflection of different variables,” said Ashley. “It’s a combination of things including how well the car moves off the starting line. If we don’t perform well the reaction times are irrelevant anyway. So just like everything in drag racing it’s a team effort. All I do is the best that I can to help put ourselves in a position to win.”
During qualifying this process has paid huge dividends with the team’s success in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. Ashley has a 10-0 record and he has locked up 15 championship points that will be added to his Countdown point total following the U.S. Nationals. Championships have been won or lost by less than five points in recent seasons so the cushion Ashley has earned by outdueling his opponents on Saturdays could be a major advantage in the playoffs.
“I love the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge,” said Ashley. “What I really like about it is that it gives the fans something more to engage with on Saturday during qualifying. It’s added more meaningful competition with valuable championship points on the line. Those are going to be critical when the playoffs start.”
In addition to the success on the track Ashley has been making moves off the track with the formation of Maynard Ashley Racing and continued to focus on building the strength of Phillips Connect through business-to-business relationships across the country. Before most races Ashley will visit a Phillips Connect customer or marketing partner to talk with their leadership team or management group about Phillips Connect. The team also hosts guests in their pit side hospitality providing the opportunity for guests to meet other decision-makers from companies that range from KATO Fastening Systems, to strutmasters.com, to Okuma, to Toyota and Lucas Oil.
“It’s our job to provide a platform for our partners to generate business. Performance off the racetrack is equally, if not more important than performance on the racetrack,” said Ashley. “Our goal with MAR is to create a world-class environment where businesses can leverage the race program to increase their bottom line. That includes visits to customers located in the areas in which we race and the use of our hospitality area for networking, growth and relationship building.”
Last year at the Northwest Nationals Ashley raced the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster to the semifinals from the No. 7 qualifier position. He defeated Austin Prock and Steve Torrence before being ousted by eventual event winner Tony Schumacher. Qualifying for this year’s race will begin on Friday afternoon with one session followed by two rounds of qualifying on Saturday. The race will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning with FOX broadcasting the racing action live nationally.