As the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series opens this weekend with the NHRA Gatornationals, March 9-12, championship contender Justin Ashley and his Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster team will be looking to start the season once again with a victory. Last year the fourth-year pro won the historic Winternationals in Pomona the first race of 2022 and went on to his best season collecting two more wins and seven total final round appearances. Ashley was in championship contention until the final day of the season, ultimately finishing No. 4 in the Top Fuel point standings. This year Ashley has even loftier goals for his experienced and enthusiastic team.
“I can’t wait to get the season started,” said Ashley. “We’ve had a productive offseason on and off the racetrack. Gainesville is our first opportunity to see the results of that production and evaluate our performance when it matters most. I am very much looking forward to kicking off 2023 with our Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel Dragster team.”
The Phillips Connect Top Fuel team will have a busy weekend schedule in addition to the four qualifying sessions Ashley and seven other championship caliber Top Fuel teams will be competing in the Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout. This race within a race will award the winner an $80,000 top prize and bragging rights at the start of the season. The race will be contested during the Saturday qualifying sessions and on Friday drivers will “call-out” their opponents. As the No. 3 qualifier Ashley could have the chance to choose his opponent unless the No. 1 or No. 2 qualifiers select him.
“I love everything about the Pep Boys All-Star Callout,” explained Ashley. “The field is loaded with talent and the unique format creates an even higher-level energy and excitement. We’re racing for the big money on FOX, but more importantly we’re racing for our teams, sponsors and fans. This race brings out the best in everybody.”
Last year only one round of the Pep Boys All-Star Callout was contested as the Gatornationals due to torrential rains which upended the schedule throughout the weekend. This year’s event looks to have a favorable forecast and Ashley is ready to spend three days at Gainesville Raceway making quick passes and spending time with the fans and sponsors.
“Last year the rain really impacted the race,” said Ashley. “We still had success, which speaks volumes about our team. But I am certainly looking forward to a more normal race this year. You’re going to get everyone’s best shot in great conditions and in front of a huge crowd of fans.”
As a fan favorite Ashley continues to build his team with a positive attitude and hard work. Throughout the off-season Ashley was working with sponsors to make sure he was positioned to make another run for the Top Fuel championship. As a team owner as well as a driver Ashley keeps his head on the business and operations side of the team as well as his performance behind the wheel. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the year is recognized as one of the top drivers when it comes to average reaction time and Ashley continues to hone his skills as a young Top Fuel driver.
“I try to compartmentalize and eliminate all distractions inside the race car,” said Ashley. “My goal is to do the same thing every time whether it’s qualifying or race day. Fortunately, I have a great team on and off the racetrack who help me to do so. Mike Green, Tommy DeLago and Dustin Davis are at the forefront of a truly amazing group. We will be ready to go starting on Friday with that first round of qualifying.”
The NHRA Gatornationals will feature two rounds of Top Fuel qualifying on Friday and two sessions on Saturday. During the qualifying sessions on Saturday Ashley will also be competing in the Pep Boys All-Star Callout. The final round of the Callout will be contested on Saturday night with a winner-take-all $80,000 race that will not count towards qualifying position. Final eliminations will begin on Sunday March 12 at 10 a.m. ET with FOX broadcasting the race nationally from noon-3:00 p.m. ET.