With two regular season races remaining on the NHRA schedule Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy are looking to secure eight more win lights starting with this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd. Last year Ashley raced to the quarterfinals from the No. 5 qualifier spot in his first visit to Brainerd International Raceway. A return engagement has the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year eager to chase down the two drivers in front of him in the Camping World Top Fuel point standings. Last weekend Ashley clinched his spot in the Countdown for the second consecutive year and the young driver and team owner knows he will have a great chance to race for his first championship.
“You start every season with one goal and that is to win the Top Fuel world championship,” said Ashley, who finished No. 4 last season. “We picked up a win in the first race of the year and have continually improved our performance throughout the season. Going into Brainerd No. 3 in the point standings with a legitimate shot at gaining ground over the final two races of the regular season is a huge testament to the success of our program. Now that we are locked into the Countdown we can simply focus on taking it one round at a time in Brainerd.”
So far this season Ashley, a two-time Top Fuel winner, has matched his career win total, Indy2 Summer Nationals (2020) and Dallas (2021), already this year and raced to two more final rounds. Over the past seven races Ashley has a win (Bristol, Tenn.) and a final round appearance (Epping, New Hampshire) as well as three additional semifinal appearances. The consistency and longevity of his race days has the second-generation driver ready to finish out the regular season.
“I am so happy with how this Phillips Connect Toyota Vita C Energy team is performing from top to bottom. We didn’t reach our ultimate goal last weekend in Topeka, but we accomplished a lot under some very tough circumstances,” said Ashley. “The conditions in Brainerd will be vastly different than what we’ve been accustomed to racing in this summer. The weather should present our team with a great opportunity to capitalize on a very fast racetrack.”
Ashley’s Top Fuel team has qualified in the top half of the field at every NHRA national event this season except for the Thunder Valley Nationals, an event Ashley won from the No. 14 qualifier position. The last five races Ashley has started from the No. 2 spot three times advancing to the semifinals twice. The solid qualifying performances have equated to additional bonus points but also confidence and favorable match-ups on race day.
“There are no easy rounds in this sport anymore,” said Ashley. “We have had some tough first round races when we know we had a great racecar. You have to be at the top of your game every time you pull up to the starting line whether you are the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 qualifier. Any driver that qualifies has the skill and resources to win the race every Sunday. I don’t think there has been a more competitive group of Top Fuel teams top to bottom in a long time.”
The cooler temperatures in the forecast also have Ashley anticipating big performance numbers. Over the off-season crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago worked to find more power for Ashley’s 11,000 horsepower Phillips Connect dragster and throughout the season the duo has been applying tune-up adjustments. Steady improvement has been seen not only on hot track conditions at the summer races but even the early season events saw Ashley posting some of the quickest runs.
“We really put the time in to build a performance program that would allow us to be competitive when the track is both hot and cold,” said Ashley. “You have to run quick under all conditions if you want to race for the championship. We are doing exactly that and I can’t wait to get to Brainerd then Indy and the Countdown. I have the utmost confidence in this team.”
Ashley and his team will get four qualifying runs this weekend beginning on Friday at 2:15 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. CT. On Saturday the Phillips Connect Vita C Energy dragster will be on track at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations will start on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. with the race being broadcast on Fox starting at 2:30 p.m. CT.