Heading into the fifth race of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster team have been hitting on all cylinders. Through the first four races Ashley has collected two wins, a No. 1 qualifier, won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge and held the points lead. Success at the unique four-wide racing format is the last hurdle for the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year and championship contender to clear. Two weeks ago, Ashley was ousted in the opening round after a solid qualifying effort that saw him enter race day as the No. 4 Top Fuel dragster. Last year at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Ashley won his first round of four-wide racing from the No. 1 spot.
“We go into four-wide racing with the same approach as usual,” said Ashley, who made his professional debut at zMax Dragway in 2019. “There is, however, a heightened awareness of everything going on around us because of the two additional cars. We are fortunate to have great support from Toyota when it comes to track conditions. (Crew chiefs) Mike Green and Tommy DeLago have a ton of experience and our Phillips Connect team gets stronger every race. Our success at four-wide races will come when the time is right. I am really looking forward to this weekend and the benefit of racing four-wide at back-to-back events.”
Ashley is no overnight success considering he won the season opening Winternationals in 2022 but this year’s defense of that title on the heels of his Top Fuel win at the Arizona Nationals gave the young driver a huge boost on the competition early in the season. The weekend in Pomona was a dominant performance with Ashley, racing to No. 1 qualifier on a pass that won his team the $10,000 top prize in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge on Saturday. On race day he took out three tough competitors, received a competition bye in the quarterfinals on the way to his second consecutive Winternationals title.
“Pomona was an amazing weekend,” said Ashley, who has been No. 1 qualifier at the past two NHRA national events contested at zMax Dragway. “To qualify No. 1, win the Mission Challenge, and win the Winternationals for the second consecutive year with Phillips Connect representatives in attendance was a blessing. We started our partnership with Phillips Connect at the Winternationals in 2022. (Phillips Connect CEO) Rob Phillips wasn’t at that race so to be able to share this win with him and the whole Phillips Connect team made it extra special.”
Ashley has built his program on strong marketing relationships well beyond Phillips Connect. He has represented Strutmasters.com and KATO Fastening Systems since his Top Fuel debut. In the past two years he has added additional marketing partners Lucas Oil, Toyota and Mac Tools. The personable off the track and successful on-track combination has served Ashley well just three years into his professional career.
“It is a team effort to get every win light in this sport,” said Ashley. “Chip Lofton and Strutmasters.com have supported our program for so many years. Everybody from Lucas Oil, to Toyota, KATO Fastening Systems, Mac Tools and Impact are directly responsible for our success on and off the racetrack.”
Leading up to the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Ashley will have a full dance card. On Tuesday he joined fellow Toyota NHRA teammates Shawn Langdon and J.R. Todd along with NHRA on Fox’s Brian Lohnes in a curling event against a handful of NASCAR Toyota drivers. Thursday night he will be racing NASCAR drivers in a drag racing versus circle track grudge race at zMax Dragway. These off-track events motivate Ashley to perform on track and relax a little as well.
“Any time you get a chance to mingle with drivers from other series I think that is a plus,” said Ashley. “This is NASCAR country so getting the chance to show off some drag racing skills will be fun, but I think there is a lot to learn from any racing discipline. Thanks to Toyota we get to have some fun on Tuesday and then I am looking forward to the racing event on Thursday night.”
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team will get two passes on Friday and two more on Saturday before they take to the track on Sunday morning for final eliminations at noon ET. The qualifying highlights and the race will be televised on FS1 throughout the weekend.