With two NHRA Countdown national events left on the schedule Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy are in control of the Top Fuel championship race sitting in the No. 1 spot. The third-year driver and team owner has dominated the first four Countdown races securing two runner-up finishes and a win at the Texas Fall Nationals, where he defended his 2021 title and extended his points lead to 82 points over his closest pursuer. The team knows there is no margin for error heading into this weekend’s NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We are not taking anything for granted and there is a lot of racing left before someone wins the championship,” said Ashley. “This Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy has been running great thanks to the hard work of Dustin Davis, Mike Green, Tommy DeLago, our team and our partners. I am lucky to be the driver who gets to hit the throttle every race. This is a complete team effort and we are going into the Nevada Nationals focused on making quick qualifying runs and then racing within ourselves on Sunday.”
Ashley started the season with a win at the Winternationals and since then the second generation drag racer has been on a rocket ship of success picking up an additional win in Bristol at the Thunder Valley Nationals on Father’s Day weekend. A string of semifinal finishes to close out the regular season set up Ashley for his run through the Countdown. In Reading and Charlotte starting from the No. 2 and No. 1 qualifying positions respectively, Ashley raced to the final round only to lose close races but two weeks ago in Dallas the 2020 Rookie of the Year broke through for his first 2022 Countdown win taking out Doug Kalitta, Kebin Kinsley, Shawn Langdon and Austin Prock for the win that included four straight runs in the 3.60s from the No. 10 qualifier position.
“We didn’t qualify as well as we would have hoped at Texas Motorplex, but we turned it around on race day which is a testament to the resiliency and mental fortitude of our team,” said Ashley. “We raced three Countdown contending teams on Sunday and got three win lights. We have been racing a lot of Countdown contenders which is what you need to do if you want to win the championship.
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has been a track where Ashley has had limited success racing to two semifinal finishes the past two NHRA Nevada Nationals. Last year he raced to the final four as the No. 3 qualifier and in 2020 he made the semis from the No. 12 spot. In each of those races he was ousted by eventual world champion Steve Torrence.
“This sport will get your attention really quick if you take anything for granted,” said Ashley. “We are going to just take every qualifying round one at a time and on race day we are going to race the racetrack to the best of our ability. This is an exciting time, but the key is not to get too high or too low. We are going to continue enjoying ourselves but stay focused on the task at hand.”
Top Fuel will have two qualifying runs on Friday and two qualifying runs on Saturday where teams can earn qualifying bonus points heading into Sunday’s elimination rounds. The final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. with FS1 broadcasting the race nationally.
Through 20 national events this season Ashley and the Phillips Connect team have raced to at least the semifinals 13 times and they have started from No. 4 or higher 11 times including two No. 1 qualifiers. The consistency both in qualifying and on race day has Ashley confident but not cocky heading into the penultimate Countdown race.