Justin Ashley and the Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel dragster powered by Phillips Connect came up just short of their bid for a seventh Top Fuel in this season today at the NHRA Nevada Nationals. Ashley, the No. 6 qualifier, outran Dan Mercier, Austin Prock and Steve Torrence before losing to Mike Salinas in the final round. The successful day kept Ashley in the championship conversation as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series heads to Pomona, California for the season finale in two weeks.
“I feel really good about the way the day went today,” said Ashley. “It was critical for us to be in the championship hunt and give ourselves a realistic chance going into Pomona by the time this race was over. I think that we did a good job of accomplishing that. One more round would have made a big difference and we would have loved to have come away with the win. Anytime you go to a final round in a race like this, at such a crucial point in the season that is super important. We feel good and I am just looking forward to trying to take those next steps.”
Ashley faced Canadian drag racer Mercier in the opening round looking to kick start his championship hopes. As the No. 6 qualifier the Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel dragster powered by Phillips Connect had lane choice and Ashley took full advantage getting a starting line advantage and never trailing in the drag race. Ashley’s winning time of 3.736 seconds was enough to get the win over Mercier’s solid 3.752 second pass.
In the quarterfinals Ashley drew fellow Countdown competitor Prock and his John Force Racing backed Top Fuel dragster. Once again Ashley was first off the line with a reaction time advantage .043 to .060 and his much improved 3.703 second pass prevailed over Prock’s 3.727 second run. The win advanced Ashley into the semifinals and race against Torrence, one of the drivers he is chasing for the Top Fuel world championship.
Looking for a 40-point swing in the championship standings Toyota teammates Ashley and Torrence pulled up to the starting line. Ashley was looking to overcome a slight performance disadvantage and he used his starting line expertise to jump off the line with a .036 second reaction time and hold off Torrence at the finish line with a slower elapsed time 3.730 seconds to 3.680 seconds. Ashley advanced to his eighth final round of the season.
“Our goal coming into this race was getting four win lights,” said Ashley, who raced to his first final round at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “It’s just so tough out here. Steve is a great competitor. He’s a Toyota teammate and that car is running great but you know, there’s no quit in this team. This Leatherwood Distillery Toyota Phillips Connect team, just grinds and grinds. I couldn’t be prouder of this team. We are trying to stack as many rounds up today as possible and we have more work to do.”
Racing the No. 1 qualifier Salinas in the final round Ashley was looking for his seventh win of the season. Ashley was first off the line but his 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster overpowered the track and opened the door for Salinas to race to the win. At the end of the day Ashley is only 82 points out of first place which with points and a half is only three rounds.
“Going to the final was big for points, which is most important but in addition to the points, it gives us more data and information,” said Ashley. “We haven’t been able to go rounds the last few races so when you don’t go rounds you don’t pick up the points but we also don’t get more data and information. It was crucial for us just for the sake of momentum to stack some round wins on top of each other this weekend.”