With five wins and six final round appearances this season Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team are looking to keep the pressure on the rest of the field as the regular season ends. With three races remaining before the points are reset Ashley, who already has fifteen championship points in the bank, is looking to extend his lead with another Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win this weekend at the NHRA Topeka Nationals and add another win to his personal record-setting season. The fourth-year driver and team owner knows that there are tough competitors from the top to the bottom of the Top Fuel class, but he is ready to take on all challengers.
“We had a very productive Western Swing,” said Ashley, who has 10 career Top Fuel wins. “The highlight was winning Sonoma. But we were able to take something valuable from each race that we can apply moving forward. Finding success at such a critical part of the regular season was important for our Phillips Connect Toyota team.”
This season Ashley has continued to improve and demonstrate that he and his team are serious contenders for the Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship. They have a category leading six final rounds and five wins plus they have not dropped a round in the newly created Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge which will be contested again this weekend at Heartland Park Topeka. The specialty race contested during Saturday qualifying will pit Ashley against his Sonoma semifinal foe Josh Hart with $10,000 and three championship points on the line for the eventual winner among the four semifinalists.
“I love everything about the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and I think it is one of the best competitions the NHRA has put together in recent memory,” said Ashley. “You have a different mindset on Saturday when you are in the Mission Challenge versus just making two qualifying runs. We try and take advantage of every qualifying run and stay within our routine, but there is more to it with championship points and extra money on the line. Our rematch against Josh should be great for the fans on Saturday.”
Throughout the season, Ashley has been handling his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago tuned 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster like a solid veteran. The second-generation driver is also leading the class once again in reaction time average, and his prowess on the starting line has turned on more than a handful of win lights for the team. The combination of a consistently quick race car and a lightning-quick driver off the starting line has the team eager to get to Heartland Park Topeka for one last race at the high-performance race track.
“There is a lot of history at Heartland Park Topeka and we would like nothing more than to take that final Wally back to our shop,” said Ashley. “Jim Epler, Executive VP of Phillips Connect, made the first 300 mph pass here in Funny Car so our team has plenty of motivation. We have run well here in the past and look forward to an exciting weekend.”
In his two previous appearances at the NHRA Topeka Nationals Ashley has qualified well into the top half of the field starting from the No. 5 post in 2021 and last year heading in to race day as the No. 2 qualifier. In both those races he advanced out of the first round and last year he recorded a semifinal finish losing to eventual winner Toyota teammate Antron Brown.
“The competition is so tough in Top Fuel that anyone can win the race,” said Ashley, who won the Sonoma Nationals as the No. 7 qualifier. “The fields are as tight as Pro Stock cars with races being decided by thousandths of a second. Everything on your team has to be nearly perfect for every run. I love this level of competition and I think it really shows how well our Phillips Connect Toyota team is working together. The leadership from Mike, Tommy and Dustin Davis has been incredible and it trickles down the rest of the team, myself included. It a lot of fun and we want to keep the momentum rolling.”
Ashley along with the rest of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge competitors will participate in a free fan autograph session on Saturday and the former junior dragster driver will once again host a group of young drivers in the Maynard Ashley Racing pit area on Friday afternoon. These extra fan events keep Ashley grounded and focused on what is truly important at the track.
“I am so fortunate to live my dream and race this Phillips Connect Top Fuel dragster,” said Ashley. “Speaking with the junior drivers and their parents is just a small way of giving back to the youth within the NHRA community. It’s important they know that their dreams are very much attainable if they do the right things. The Mission Foods autograph session is a lot of fun because it gets the drivers together in a more casual setting where they can interact with fans. It’s something I enjoy taking part in when the opportunity is there.”
Ashley and the Top Fuel class will be on track on Friday night for one night-time run and then they will have two qualifying runs on Saturday. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. CT with the race broadcast hitting the FS1 airwaves from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. ET.