Justin Ashley raced the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma to his fifth final round of 2023, and for the first time the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year did not emerge victorious, exiting Norwalk with a runner-up finish.
Throughout the season, Ashley had established a pattern of racing to the final round and securing victory capturing four national event wins and four Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge victories, including one yesterday at Summit Motorsports Park. Ashley dropped the final round to No. 1 qualifier Leah Pruett after he defeated Clay Millican, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force throughout the day.
“This was a great weekend at the racetrack for our Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma,” said Ashley, who has raced to 16 final rounds in his Top Fuel career. “Our entire team did a fantastic job, and I could not be prouder. This was a team effort from the start to the finish. To be able to turn on so many win lights in a row is something that is so difficult to do in a sport that has so much competition. Today and the rest of the season we will have our guardian angel Cathi Maynard riding with us.”
In the first round, Ashley drew veteran driver and No. 10 qualifier Millican to get his race day started. Both drivers were strong off the starting line with Ashley getting a slight edge .041 to .044 but Millican smoked the tires almost immediately. Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma made a smooth run at 3.715 seconds to advance to the quarterfinals.
Facing four-time world champion and fellow Toyota driver Torrence in the quarterfinals, Ashley had lane choice. When the tree flashed amber Ashley once again showed his driving skill leaping off the line with a strong .038 reaction time and that advantage held up at the starting line getting the four-time national event winner in 2023 a hole shot win 3.721 to 3.703 seconds over Torrence. After the win light fired off in Ashley’s lane his crew chief Mike Green had nothing but praise for his driver.
“He’s doing such a great job, he’s learning every day,” said Green. “He’s great on the tree. Racing the Torrence family, you know, Richard, Bobby, Steve, Billy and Kay, they’re just a great team. They’ve obviously been one of the best teams out here for a long time. Racing them, they flat out outran us that time, but luckily enough Justin did a great job on the tree and we got the win.”
The win advanced Ashley to another semifinal and secured his spot in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge for the fifth time this season. To race to his fifth final round, Ashley would have to defeat the reigning Top Fuel champion Brittany Force who was also racing a strong Top Fuel dragster. In the semifinals, Ashley continued to be locked in off the starting line with a .038 reaction time which put his Phillips Connect Toyota dragster out front and he never trailed in the race winning 3.711 to 3.713 seconds with both 12,000-horsepower Top Fuelers hitting over 330 mph.
“It’s so much fun to be able to drive this Phillips Connect Toyota Racing Top Fuel dragster,” said Ashley, after his semifinal win. “I love putting our Mac Tools and Lucas Oil to work each round. The team does such a great job and everyone is focused on us, but how about the competition? It’s so close, racing with such small margin of error. Everyone knows I love our marketing partners, but I love my mother. Happy birthday, Mom, I love you.”
Throughout the season, Ashley has had the support of marketing partners, including KATO Fastening Systems, Lucas Oil, Mac Tools, Toyota and this weekend Okuma. In the final, looking to turn on his 14th consecutive win light with his fifth win of the season, Ashley pulled beside Pruett. Ashley was first off the line for the fourth consecutive time on race day with another stellar reaction time, .043-seconds. Ashley was on a strong run, but he had to pedal his race car, losing some momentum and opening the door for Pruett to drive around him. He was not able to get his dragster to hook back up, and he had to watch Pruett pull away for the win.
The team will leave Norwalk with the points lead, which they stretched to over 100 points over Torrence in second place. They will be back on track at the NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, July 14-16.