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Justin Ashley Reflects on Career Best Season

Justin Ashley, driver of the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster, was in contention for his first Top Fuel world championship entering the final day of the 2023 NHRA season. During the regular season, Ashley accumulated a category-best six wins in seven final round appearances, qualified No. 1 three times, and won 40 rounds of racing, also a category-best mark. He was the No. 1 driver in Top Fuel reaction times and scored six Mission #2Fast2Tasty wins. Eventually, the second-generation driver finished No. 4 in the Top Fuel point standings scoring a runner-up finish at the Nevada Nationals as his highlight moment of a tough Countdown. Ashley took a few minutes during the PRI Show to reflect on the 2023 season and all his positive accomplishments.

What stands out as a pivotal moment for you in 2023?
“I think the most significant, pivotal moment was probably the second race of the year when we were in Arizona. We didn’t perform the way that we wanted to in Gainesville. And the important thing was going to be how we responded the next week in Arizona. We responded by winning the race. Then we followed up by winning the next race again after that in Pomona. I think that was a turning point for us. It showed the fortitude of our team and our attitude. I’m proud to be a small part of such a great and bigger group that accomplished so much this year.”

“There were a lot of pivotal moments, but I think that was really the turning point for us in the beginning of the year because we knew at that point, that we had a great team. We had a great race car and we responded positively to anything despite the circumstances around us.”
What was your biggest learning opportunity?
“The Countdown, particularly the last couple of races, really was an experience. I think we took a lot that we can learn as a group. And as a team, I think it was more of like a reiteration of a few things that we already know, which is not to focus on anything else that’s outside of our control. To control we can control and just be mechanical, go out there and try and do the same thing every time as a driver and as a team and let the rest let the points take care of themselves.” 
What are you focusing on for 2024?
“If you don’t take care of your own business, it’s not going to matter anyway, so it’s a new year, or fresh start beginning in 2024. But I think overall, just our attitude about everything, having a healthy, good understanding of what we’re looking at, will really be good for us and prove to be invaluable. It’s exciting because it’s different. It’s a great challenge, great opportunity. The more we race at these racetracks, I think the more as teams and drivers we have an understanding of what they’re all about.”
What has you excited for 2024?
“We’re going to some new facilities, having an opportunity to race at maybe new places that we haven’t raced before, or places that we’ve raced before and are now going back again, presents a new challenge and opportunity to try and understand those racetracks and understand those facilities and the different nuances that they have. I think just the challenge in and of itself and getting the opportunity to travel to new places and see different fans that we haven’t either seen in a few years or haven’t seen before. The fans make this sport what it is, they make great. So having the opportunity to see some new fans along the way, is something that we’re definitely looking forward to.”
What was the best fan experience you had in 2023?
“I don’t know that there was one fan experience that stood out, but I think whenever there’s a kid, it’s special. It kind of puts things in perspective quickly. I don’t care what kind of day you’re having, or you might have gone out the first round, no matter what the race, but ultimately, you realize it really is so much greater than yourself. Something as small as giving someone a hat or signing an autograph or taking a picture, it really can have a tremendous impact on the life of somebody, especially children. So as a whole, that’s something that really stood out to me this year.”

You had so much support throughout the season, how special was that when you look back at all your team accomplished?
“I wouldn’t be here without the support of my family, especially my mom and dad. Phillips Connect, Toyota and everyone on the Maynard Ashley Racing team was huge this season. We also have long-time partners like KATO Fastening Systems, Chip Lofton and, Impact, Lucas Oil and Mac Tools. I am surrounded by so many awesome people and companies, it was amazing to share so many winners’ circles with them in 2023. I loved being able to celebrate and work beside them throughout the season, and I am looking forward to more celebrations in 2024.”

This story was originally published on December 14, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.