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Top Fuel Points Leader Justin Ashley Hopes to Keep Streak Alive at Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

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If you’re NHRA Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley, it would be hard not to love Bristol Dragway. Ashley has won back-to-back races in scenic Thunder Valley, including last year when he swept the weekend in incredible fashion, including the postponed Epping event, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge bonus race and the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

It may be hard to top that at this weekend’s 23rd annual Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, but Ashley will try as he seeks an impressive third straight victory at Bristol Dragway. Only Top Fuel legend Tony Schumacher and Pro Stock’s Mike Edwards have won three straight times in Thunder Valley, meaning Ashley will try to join some rarified air.

He’s enjoyed another banner year thus far in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, entering the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals as the points leader on the strength of two wins in his 11,000-horsepower Scag Power Equipment/Toyota dragster. As expected, the annual trip to Bristol is one Ashley enjoys a great deal.

“It’s one of the more challenging places we race, but it’s been a complete team effort there,” Ashley said. “Our team’s experience tuning and navigating this track has played a big part in it. Last year in Bristol was a weekend I’ll never forget and every time I go to Bristol from now on, it’s going to be something I think about. They absolutely pack the place in Bristol and it’s such a special place to race. With all the sounds that are so unique to that facility, I just have so many fond memories of racing there.”

Ashley (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took home titles last year in picturesque Thunder Valley and this year’s race will again be broadcast on FS1, including eliminations beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. It is the eighth of 20 races during the 2024 season and the fan-favorite Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge also takes place on Saturday, featuring semifinalists from last weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals.

Ashley won’t be part of the bonus race this year, experiencing a rare first-round defeat on Sunday. He’ll have an immediate chance to bounce back in Bristol, which could be one benefit of a busy June that features four race weekends.

But he’s also facing off against a deep Top Fuel class that includes reigning world champ Doug Kalitta, who won on Sunday in Epping, Antron Brown, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican and racing legend Tony Stewart, who is making his Bristol Top Fuel debut this weekend. Ashley, though, is eager to put last weekend behind him and see if he can create some more Bristol magic.

“This stretch is going to be critical for us to get into a rhythm,” Ashley said. “You can go from one race to the next and if you won the race before, it’s great. You can carry that momentum into the next one and if you lose, it might even be better because you don’t have to sit on it too long and suffer. You can go right to the next race. But in the summer months when it becomes hot, the tracks can be really challenging, so the people who are going to win are those who can go up and down the track.”

Capps won his second straight Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals last season when he defeated Alexis DeJoria in the finals. He’s looking for his first win of 2024 in a loaded group that includes points leader Austin Prock, John Force, who won Sunday in Epping, Gainesville winner J.R. Todd, reigning champ Matt Hagan and Bob Tasca III.

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Enders, the reigning Pro Stock world champ, is after consecutive Bristol wins and also her 50th career national event victory this weekend. To do so, she’ll have to get past the likes of points leader Dallas Glenn, Greg Anderson, who has two wins this season, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield and Epping winner Troy Coughlin Jr.

Johnson, a veteran in Pro Stock Motorcycle, claimed his win over Gaige Herrera in 2023. Herrera, who won 11 events last year, went on to win the title in dominant fashion and is undefeated thus far in 2024. Other contenders include six-time champion Matt Smith, former champ LE Tonglet, John Hall, Hector Arana Jr. and Angie Smith.

The Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, featuring some of the top racers in the country, as well as the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+, Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown and Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Mountain Motor Pro Stock. The weekend includes an appearance from the Legends Nostalgia Nitro Funny Cars as well. After final qualifying on Saturday, fans will also be treated to a special autograph session and fanfest at the Bristol Dragway Welcome Tent in the midway.

Fans will also be invited to the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which features Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more. Race fans at Bristol Dragway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that celebrates each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the Bristol event winners.

As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Bristol. They can see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.

NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. ET on Friday, June 7, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 8 at 12:30 and 3:15 p.m. Eliminations will begin at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 9. Television coverage includes qualifying action at 7 p.m. ET on Friday and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday on FS1, leading into eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.

To purchase tickets to the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, fans can visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. For more information on NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.

This story was originally published on June 4, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.