The Western Swing is underway and Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team had a bittersweet start to the grueling three race in three weeks schedule. Ashley picked up his fifth win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge on Saturday at Bandimere Speedway, but he was eliminated in the first round of the Mile-High Nationals today in a tough race against four-time world champion Steve Torrence. After two days of qualifying Ashley went in to race day as the No. 11 qualifier with a weekend best run of 3.883 seconds at 313.95 mph.
The 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year, four-time Top Fuel national event winner in 2023 and current point leader was on a strong win streak against Torrence collecting win lights the previous nine times the two championship contenders squared off. In the opening stanza of the final Mile-High Nationals Ashley gave Torrence a run for his money but he came up just short at the finish line. His reaction time advantage of .057 to .071 was not enough to pick up the win light and he had to pedal his 12,000-horsepower race car when it briefly and uncharacteristically overpowered the track.
“There are no excuses. First and foremost, when you come up here and race on the mountain, it’s far different than anywhere else,” said Ashley. “It takes a large adjustment. It’s the same circumstance for everyone. We’ve been doing really good and running really well and winning a lot of races but the fields are so tough. We kind of fell behind the eight ball in qualifying so we had a tough first round matchup with Steve. He’s been running really good all weekend so it’s one of those deals that you kind of just put behind you and move on to Seattle.”
This has been another breakout season for the second generation driver how raced to the semifinals at the 2022 NHRA Mile High Nationals. This year with the continued support of not just Phillips Connect but KATO Fastening Systems, Strutmaster.com with Chip Lofton, Lucas Oil, Mac Tools and Toyota Ashley has made huge strides. Earlier this season he announced the formation of Maynard Ashley Racing to continue to take his world-class operation to the next level on and off the track. The competition level has also continued to step every race.
“We knew there was going to be no layups even going back to 2022 and with how good the field was it’s almost hard to fathom the fact that it’d be better in 2023,” said Ashley, who has nine Top Fuel national event wins. “You have round one match ups that are like final rounds. No matter where you look, no matter where you qualify there are upsets left and right and there’s really no escaping so that’s what makes it good makes it good for the teams everyone makes each other better. It’s good for the fans so we know that we expect to do better and accomplish more than we did today, but we also know that this is part of part of it when you’re racing such a good field.”
This weekend had Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team racing in front of three days of sold- out grandstands at Bandimere Speedway. After 65 years of racing on the mountain side the family sold the property and has already shifted their focus to a new location for a possible state-of-the-art facility. The memories that Ashley and the thousands of fans in attendance will not fade away any time soon.
“It’s so much fun. It’s amazing,” said Ashley. “The facility itself is stunning. When you combine that with the fans that come here, it’s packed, and it’s been packed all weekend. They are so engaged and excited about the racing and what the Bandimeres have done. It’s really a good culture inside this whole facility.”
The team will leave Denver with the points lead which sits at three rounds over Torrence in second place. They will be back on track in less than a week at the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceway, July 21-23.