As the Western Swing winds down with the final stop this weekend, for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 28-30, at picturesque Sonoma Raceway Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team powered by Okuma are looking to get their momentum back. This season the fourth year Top Fuel team owner and driver has collected four wins and five final round appearances, both career highs for a season, through eleven NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series National events. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year has also won five Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge specialty races, collecting $50,000 and possibly more valuable 15 championship points. The first two races of the swing have not been as successful as Ashley would have liked but he is focusing on the future not the past.
“The first two races of the swing are in the past and we are focused on how we can continue to get better in the present moment,” said Ashley. “We have great data from Seattle that we hope to apply this weekend in Sonoma. The track will be fast and we get four qualifying sessions which is ideal for our Phillips Connect Toyota team powered by Okuma.”
This will be Ashley’s third time racing at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, a track with a long history of quick elapsed times and high speeds. The facility also draws fans and supporters from across the country and region thanks to its proximity to the world-famous wine country. The allure of seeing record times could also bring the “Phillips Connect 300 at the 1/8” program for any Top Fuel or Funny Car driver to break that speed barrier at the 1/8-mile mark into jeopardy and add a $30,000 bonus to their bank account for the effort.
“Sonoma is a race that we’re really looking forward to because of the record-setting conditions that are often available during the Friday night session,” said Ashley, who is entering his second season with Phillips Connect as his primary sponsor. “We’ll have Phillips Connect representatives in attendance and would love nothing more than to join the Phillips Connect 300 at the 1/8 club. A lot of teams, ourselves included, want to be the first to do so.”
Last year Ashley raced to the quarterfinals after qualifying No. 6 in a tight Top Fuel field. He took out Alex Laughlin in the first round before dropping a second round race to Mike Salinas, who raced to the final round. In his first time competing at Sonoma Raceway in 2021, his day was cut short in the first round with a loss to Leah Pruett.
“Sonoma Raceway has a lot of history and officially kicks off the second half of the season,” said Ashley. “It’s important to have a good race because we’re getting closer to the countdown. We have gone some rounds at Sonoma in the past and now our goal is to qualify well and put our team in a position to win on raceday.”
Prior to the race Ashley will be donating some time and racing skills to the Speedway Children’s Charity NHRA Charity Karting Tournament event on Thursday afternoon. Participants will start their day with professional karting instruction, followed by an on-track instructional round, practice round, and end with team time trials. Following the event Ashley will join a group of NHRA drivers, crew chiefs and supporters at Turn 11 for the 15th annual Eric Medlen Nitro Night dinner. Guests will enjoy a casual barbeque dinner, live auction, raffle, and gather to celebrate the life of the late Eric Medlen.
“Thursday will be a very special day because I will spend time go-karting with fans and attending the Eric Medlen Nitro Night dinner to help raise money for Speedway Children’s Charity of Sonoma,” said Ashley. “Dustin Davis, Phillips Connect and our marketing team were instrumental in reviving this event last year and it has really taken off again. I didn’t have the privledge of knowing Eric Medlen but the impact he made on the lives of so many within the NHRA community has been invaluable. I am grateful for the opportunity to join others as we celebrate his life.”
The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team will have two qualifying runs on Friday and two on Saturday. Final eliminations will begin at 10:30 a.m. PST on Sunday with the qualified Top Fuel drivers looking to add their name to the storied list of Sonoma Nationals winners. The race will be broadcast nationally on the FOX network Sunday afternoon.