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Justin Ashley Looking to Midwest Nationals as Turning Point

Photo by David Hilner

Throughout the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team have been singularly focused on consistency and excellence. That focus has not changed after two unusually early exits for the team that led the points most of the season and won a class leading six races in the regular season. There was a stretch in the first half of the season when the team was experiencing some up and down results, but they never lost faith and finished the final nine races of the regular season with four wins, a runner-up and two semifinal finishes to secure the No. 1 seed for the Countdown.

“We faced some adversity in the early part of the season when we would either win or get knocked out of a race early,” said Ashley, an 11-time Top Fuel winner. “We worked through that by simply trusting the process and trusting one another. The same principles apply now. We are a championship team that is facing a small bit of adversity. These tests are good and it’s how we respond that will make all the difference. We are focused on St. Louis and the first qualifying session on Friday night. A quick run to start the Midwest Nationals will set the tone for the rest of the weekend.”
 
After two races of the Countdown Ashley holds down the No. 3 spot just five points behind Toyota and Mac Tools teammate Steve Torrence.  Sitting in the No. 1 spot for now is another Toyota and Mac Tools teammate Doug Kalitta, who like Ashley is chasing his first Top Fuel world championship. He is a little over three rounds in front of Ashley and Torrence. The unpredictable nature of the Countdown has played out over the first two races and Ashley knows there are plenty of rounds left to win before a driver is handed the trophy.
 
“We knew it was not going to be easy when the Countdown started,” said Ashley, who only had three first round losses in the regular season. “This is now a four-race playoff. The first two races are in the past and we are focused on the present. Putting ourselves in positions to win and being the best version of ourselves that we can be is what matters most at this point in time.”
 
The leadership of crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago has been evident all season with the Phillips Connect Toyota team posting some of the most consistent and quick runs every race. Heading into the race at World Wide Technology Raceway the duo will use all their expertise to put Ashley in the quickest race car possible. The team secured three No. 1 qualifiers this season and has accumulated a decent amount of qualifying bonus points.
 
“We have been coming off the trailer ready to race throughout the season, so I am looking forward to that first Friday night session,” said Ashley. “We will get three runs to learn and position ourselves for raceday. There will be a lot of quality Top Fuel dragsters at this race each with a chance to qualify and turn on four Sunday win lights. But that’s to be expected and our Phillips Connect Toyota team is looking forward to the competition.”
 
The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster will be on track on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. for the first qualifier under the lights of World Wide Technology Raceway. On Saturday Ashley and 18 additional Top Fuel teams will make two more qualifying runs trying to secure one of the 16 spots in the field with runs at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11:00 a.m. and the race will be broadcast on FS1.

This story was originally published on September 27, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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