Justin Ashley drove the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy to a runner-up finish at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals for the second year in a row. Today he moved his team into the Top Fuel points lead with five playoff national events remaining in the 2022 NHRA season. As a third-year driver and team owner the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year is building momentum at the right time following five semifinals in the past six races coming into the Countdown.
“We are peaking at the right time thanks to our team leadership,” said Ashley. “(Co-owner) Dustin Davis has done a fantastic job of developing a group of people that works so well together. They genuinely care about what they do. (Crew chiefs) Mike Green and Tommy DeLago are very experienced, and it shows. They are always calm, and nothing ever phases them. They are also uber-aggressive and they want to win. That attitude is reflected through the whole team.”
In the first round Ashley was racing newcomer Jeff Chatterson and he never trailed in the drag race, getting the jump off the starting line and making a smooth run for the win. His winning time of 3.732 seconds was just a tick off his quickest qualifying run and gave him lane choice heading into the quarterfinals.
In the second round Ashley faced veteran and championship contender Doug Kalitta. The two Toyota backed Top Fuel dragsters pulled up with 20 points on the line. Ashley took another round win when Kalitta jumped the starting line by just .007 seconds. The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy made a smooth run and once again his run was quick enough to have lane choice over his semifinal opponent.
“I would expect races like today the rest of the Countdown,” said Ashley. “Whether you are racing guys in the Countdown or outside the Countdown it is a dogfight out there. You better bring your ‘A Game’ every round. I expect a lot of close races with a lot of lethal teams and outstanding drivers.”
In the semifinals Ashley faced Mike Salinas with the Top Fuel points lead up for grabs. The winner of this race would move around No. 1 seed and points leader Brittany Force who lost in the previous round. Ashley was first off the line and never trailed in the race posting a strong 3.739 second run at 330.80 mph. The win moved him to the ninth final round of his career and fifth for the 2022 season.
In the finals of the Pep Boys Nationals Ashley was looking to keep his career record perfect against Austin Prock. At the season opening Winternationals the pair met in the final round with Ashley taking the win. Today looking to move to 6-0 in head-to-head races Ashley, recognized as one of the best drivers off the starting line, was able to get the jump on Prock and the Phillips Connect Top Fuel dragster made a smooth quick pass. Unfortunately, Ashley was just slightly behind Prock when the drivers crossed the finish line.
“It was a really good weekend especially when you get to the Countdown you want to get as many points as possible whether they are qualifying points or round wins. We do a good job of stacking round wins when we go to at least the semifinals. We definitely want to come to every race and win. It is a long Countdown and leaving here with the points lead is very gratifying. This team has worked so hard to put ourselves in the position.”
Packed grandstands throughout the weekend gave Ashley an added charge as the Countdown playoffs began. New facility owners Kenny and Kyle Koretsky made major improvements and promoted the event drawing in fans from across the northeast.
“This weekend was amazing. There were so many people here,” said Ashley. “It was a joy to be able to race in front of this many people. I have to tip my hat to the Koretsky family. They did a fantastic job with this facility in a very short amount of time. The NHRA fans are what it is all about. To pull up and see the kind of crowd in the stands is amazing.”
In less than a week Ashley and the Phillips Connect team will be defending their points lead at the Carolina Nationals from zMax Dragway outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Ashley holds a nine point lead over Salinas and a 10 points lead over Force so the championship battle is far from over.