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Justin Ashley Races to Semifinals at U.S. Nationals

Top Fuel points leader came to the 69th NHRA U.S. Nationals with two goals in mind. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year and championship contender wanted to win the race and hold onto the Top Fuel point lead heading into the Countdown as the No. 1 seed. Through three days of qualifying the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team Ashley and his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago tuned 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster made four quality runs and picked up another Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win and secured the No. 3 qualifier position.
 
“Obviously we wanted to win this race,” said Ashley, a six-time winner in 2023. “We wanted to win this race bad, but we also have a healthy understanding of the regular season is over. We accomplished our goal. We’re going into the playoffs as the number one seed and we feel good about that.”

In the first round Ashley faced veteran Doug Foley. True to form Ashley was first off the starting line and he never trailed in the race. It was a close race and Foley made his quickest and fastest run of the weekend in a losing effort. Ashley’s winning time of 3.719 seconds at 333.41 mph was enough to advance him to the second round against Leah Pruett.
 
In the quarterfinals Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team were looking to balance his season record at 2-2 with a win. Once again Ashley had a strong reaction time getting off the line at the same time against Pruett with each driver dropping a .040 light. Pruett smoked the tires immediately as Ashley was pulling away on a smooth run. His winning time of 3.753 seconds was quick enough to give him lane choice in the semifinals over Toyota teammate Antron Brown.
 
It was an epic battle between two championship contenders. Ashley was first off the line and was about to start pulling away when his Goodyear slicks overpowered the track. Brown was a little further down track when his tires lost traction. Ashley gave his dragster a quick pedal to see if he could get re-engaged with the track, but he was unable to reel in Brown, who eventually went on to win the race. Ashley had his best reaction time of the day, a stellar .035 light.
 
“It’s very difficult to win the U.S. Nationals and it’s very difficult to win any race,” said Ashley. “The best and the baddest cars and teams come out to race, the U.S. Nationals and they bring their A game, not only because of how big the race is, but also because of where it’s situated in the year.
 
“There are no easy draws and when we get into this Countdown, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the one seed or the 12 or 13 seed once you’re in you’re in and anything can happen,” said Ashley. “It’s like March Madness. Once you’re in the dance. Anything can happen to brackets and they get busted all the time. There are no easy draws. Teams are really running well right now. Everyone’s hitting their groove. So yeah, I mean, we’re really happy that we finished number one, it’s gonna give us the best advantage that we could possibly ask for. However, it’s going to be tough out there. It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be an absolute fight.”
 
As the post season starts in two weeks Ashley has confidence in his Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel. Last year Ashley was dominant through the first four races. This year the rising star in NHRA is looking to battle for the full six races.
 
“I truly believe in my heart that we have the best team out here, led by Mike Green and Tommy DeLago. But our entire Phillips Connect team does such a great job week in and week out. You’ll get the eight laps that we made this weekend and six of them went down the racetrack. We went down the racetrack pretty much every time in the heat. It’s just a testament to the group that we have. I have the utmost confidence in this group and we didn’t win six races by accident. We didn’t win six Mission Food Challenges by accident because of the group that we have. The work that they continue to put in is awesome.”
 
The six race playoffs will start at Maple Grove Raceway, September 15-17 for the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals.

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