Fourth year pro Justin Ashley is heading to Las Vegas trying to keep his hot streak rolling with the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster. The past two races have seen Ashley turn on ten consecutive win lights in competition, score a No. 1 qualifier and pocket $10,000 as the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge Top Fuel winner. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year is showing that his team has championship momentum leading up to the NHRA Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals. If Ashley and the Phillips Connect Top Fuel team are going to continue to stack rounds on the competition, they will be facing one of their toughest foes this weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Four-Wide racing is a different beast,” said Ashley. “Anything can happen when you have over 40,000 horsepower on the starting line at the same time. It’s easy to get caught up in all the variables. But instead, our Phillips Connect Toyota team is focused on being the best version of ourselves we can be. We’ll put our best foot forward and let the rest take care of itself.”
Ashley has yet to record a round win at the Vegas Four-Wide Nationals in two previous attempts. Last year as the No. 4 qualifier Ashley got a great jump off the starting line but overpowered lane four and had to watch as Austin Prock and Clay Millican advanced to the next round. In his first Vegas Four-Wide Ashley lost a close race to Brittany Force and Antron Brown. Ashley was first off of the line but did not have the power at the finish line. The experiences from his two previous races have given Ashley some great insight into racing four-wide.
“The main thing about four-wide is that it’s so different from what we’re used to doing,” said Ashley. “In addition to the different staging protocols, each team gets one qualifying run in each lane and race day consists of only three rounds. The last few four-wide races have certainly opened my eyes to the subtle nuances that come with this type of event. It’s a challenge that we’re excited for as a team.”
Through three races this season Ashley has recorded two wins and a No. 1 qualifier. His first No. 1 came at the four-wide national event last year in Charlotte. The consistency both in qualifying and on race day has the Phillips Connect Toyota team positioned as a threat every time it rolls to the starting line.
“No one is going to win the championship in the first four races of the season. But this is an opportunity to put ourselves in a better position to do so when the time comes,” said Ashley. “It’s a long season and the competition is better now than ever before. Whether it’s our teammate Antron Brown, or any of the other Top Fuel teams, it’s an absolute fight to win. Winning two races in a row is a testament to the talent of Mike Green, Tommy DeLago and the entire Phillips Connect team.”
Since that early exit at the Gatornationals Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team have been making solid passes in qualifying and on race day. The prime example of their resurgence was the Saturday qualifying sessions at the Winternationals that also doubled as the two elimination rounds of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge. Ashley’s team made a great run in the opening qualifying session in their rematch with Steve Torrence and in the final qualifying session with $10,000 and three championship points on the line Ashley outran Leah Pruett of Tony Stewart Racing taking the win and snaring the No. 1 qualifier spot from Brittany Force in the process.
“That Saturday afternoon run in Pomona when we won the Mission Challenge and went to No. 1 was incredible,” said Ashley. “It meant so much to take in that experience with Rob Phillips and the entire Phillips Family. Making big time runs when it counts most gives the whole team confidence. We feel really good about this team, but the key is to not get ahead of ourselves. There is a long season left and we need to focus on winning rounds this weekend at the Four-Wide Nationals. That is our next team challenge and we are up to the task.”
Ashley will get to tackle the four-wide racing format on Friday afternoon with two runs and then Saturday will give him two more chances. Sunday’s three rounds of eliminations will be a tough gauntlet of competition. The race will be broadcast nationally on FS1.