Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by National Debt Relief roared to victory today at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in front of packed grandstands and a host of sponsor representatives from Phillips Connect, Phillips Industries, Toyota, Lucas Oil, Mac Tools, KATO Fastening Systems and National Debt Relief. The No. 1 qualifier outran Krista Baldwin, won on a bye run and then defeated three-time world champion and Toyota teammate Antron Brown before besting Austin Prock for the second year in a row in the Winternationals final round.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed to have the kind of relationship that we have with Phillips Connect,” said Ashley, from the Shav Glick Media Center. “You know, when we started this last year, for the most part they were new to drag racing so to be able to bring them into this community to be able to work with them as one team, not Phillips Connect and Justin Ashley Racing but as one Phillips Connect team that is really something special. You see it with the results on the race track but you also see it with the results off the race track and the culture fit is just perfect. So being able to have everyone from Phillips Industries, Phillips Connect here in their hometown and collect the Wally and give it to Rob Phillips, Amber White and Jim Epler to take back with them to the office is really something special.”
Over the course of the weekend Ashley qualified No. 1 for the third time in his career and won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge on Saturday outrunning Steve Torrence and Leah Pruett for the $10,000 top prize and more importantly three championship points. On race day Ashley was nonplussed by the pressure of being the No. 1 qualifier and raced his way to his seventh Top Fuel victory of his career and his first back-to-back wins.
“I’m not sure a race weekend gets better than this to be honest with you,” confessed Ashley. “I think it was just really an incredible job top to bottom. We were saying on our way up here that to win any race is special and then to be able to win two races in a row, with the Mission Foods Challenge in between is just amazing. What makes it even greater is how much we really struggled in Gainesville. To be able to bounce back like that really shows you how resilient our team is and it started on Friday and Saturday during qualifying.”
The competition top to bottom in Top Fuel has been tough the past three seasons and in 2023 the margin for error is zero in qualifying and on race day. Every round is important and the drivers in the other lane have strong equipment and experience behind the wheel.
“No matter who you race, it’s going to be tough, and you have to have four almost perfect rounds of racing to give yourself a chance to win. Qualifying number one did help us out because we had that second round bye so that all adds up to a really successful weekend,” added Ashley.
Throughout the day Ashley was strong off the starting line with reaction times of .039, .055, .047 and .033 in the final versus Prock who he extended his final round record to 3-1 against with today’s win. The budding rivalry is not on Ashley’s radar, and he evaluates the entire group of Top Fuel racers as a very tough selection of competitors.
“No, he’s (Prock) just another opponent in the other lane,” said Ashley. “Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Austin. I think he does a great job on the starting line. He’s a great driver and I have a lot of respect for all the drivers out here, but I think I’d be doing my team a disservice if I was focused on what’s going on in the other lane. We’re just focused on doing the very best that we can to focus on our lane, doing everything I can to go from A to B as straight and as quickly as possible. So that’s really where the focus always is.”
The back-to-back wins moved Ashley into the Top Fuel points lead after three races. For the fourth year pro and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by National Debt Relief the string start has them focused on the championship as well as the next race in Las Vegas.
“It is important to know the championships a long way but it’s important to start collecting points now because you want to be in the best possible position once that Countdown starts,” said Ashley. “Goal number one is to make the Countdown. Goal number two is put yourself in a position to win the championship and those points add up. The points that we accumulate now count just as much as the points that we accumulate in Indy before the Countdown starts. It’s never too early to start thinking about the championship. Our focus is going to stay on one race at a time. After this win it will shift to Las Vegas but I think collecting those points is something that’s always in the back of our mind.”