At the conclusion of qualifying yesterday Justin Ashley ran to the No. 1 qualifier spot in the Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Okuma setting up an interesting race day at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Ashley earned a championship point on Saturday in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge race and clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Playoffs. The combination of championship and qualifying points had Ashley focused on making the most of his opportunity today.
“This sport is so up and down,” said Ashley, a six-time Top Fuel winner in 2023. “You have to really learn to appreciate the little things. When these moments come you can’t bypass them because we’re in the middle of our season. You need to appreciate it because it takes a lot of energy, hard work, commitment, and dedication both on and off the racetrack to be able to be in positions like this. It was very meaningful, to be able to receive all the Countdown celebration awards on behalf of our entire Phillips Connect Toyota team.”
In the first round Ashley faced veteran Terry Totten and his Totten Racing Top Fuel team. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year and 2023 season point leader Ashley was not looking past a tough competitor. As the reaction time average category leading driver Ashley was first off the line and never trailed in the drag race. His winning time of 3.748 seconds at 332.51 mph was right with his qualifying time and earned Ashley a competition bye run in the second round.
“Every round on Sunday feels like a final round,” said Ashley. “You almost have to have four perfect rounds of racing to put yourself in a position to win so these races are super close. The margin for error is so small. You know when you have good cars going up and down the racetrack consistently and even the part-time cars who come to fill out the field legitimately can go out there and win rounds. It makes it difficult but also at the same time it really makes it that much more rewarding.”
Ashley and his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago tuned Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster took advantage of the bye run and took an aggressive shot at the track with an empty lane beside his racecar. Ashley was still strong on the starting line with a .046 second reaction time. His Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster that also gets support from KATO Fastening Systems, Mac Tools, Lucas Oil, Strutmasters.com and Toyota smoked the tires but still advanced to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Looking to advance to his third consecutive final round, Ashley faced Leah Pruett in the semifinals. With another appearance in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty locked up by advancing to the semifinals Ashley was looking to turn on another win light. Ashley grabbed a reaction time advantage of .050 to .068 seconds and he held the lead well past half-track before Pruett chased him down. The margin of victory was just over a foot and equated to .002 seconds at over 331 mph.
“The competition being so tough, you’re going to have races like that throughout the year,” said Ashley. “Sometimes they’re gonna go your way and sometimes they’re not. It’s just one of those races where you tip your cap to your opponent and move on to the next one. We can take that run and learn from it and make sure that we apply it moving forward.”
Ashley extended his Top Fuel point lead with the semifinal effort. He will head to the U.S. Nationals with 1133 points and over a hundred-point lead on second place driver Steve Torrence. The final regular season will conclude at Lucas Oil Raceway August 30 – September 4.