The Countdown has long been recognized by regular season Top Fuel champion Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster team as a marathon and not a sprint. After an early exit today at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals, Ashley who will leave the second race of the Countdown in third place is eager to hit his stride next weekend at the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis. Coming into race day Ashley was qualified No. 7 after opening qualifying as the No. 3 Top Fuel dragster, collecting a qualifying bonus point on Friday night for his 3.698 second pass at 331.61 mph.
“We felt really good coming out of qualifying,” said Ashley, a six-time Top Fuel winner in 2023. “Mike Green and Tommy DeLago do an excellent job with this Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster week in and week out.”
In the opening round Ashley had lane choice over No. 8 qualifier Leah Pruett and Tony Stewart Racing backed dragster. The team had to wait for the entire Top Fuel field to run before they were able to make their first pass. Both lanes appeared to be even with winners coming from the right and left side of the Christmas Tree.
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster, which also receives backing from KATO Fastening Systems, Mac Tools, Lucas Oil and Chip Lofton’s Strutmasters.com, was first off starting line. As soon as more power was transferred to the track from his 11,000-horsepower race car his Goodyear slicks lost traction and he was forced to pedal his dragster, lifting off the throttle and then reengaging to pick up valuable speed and momentum. Pruett was on a smooth run and Ashley was unable to track her down before the finish line. She made her quickest pass of the weekend, 3.708 seconds, while Ashley slowed to a 4.922 second pass and only 152.99 mph.
“We launched with a lot of power and were on a nice pass ,” said Ashley. “But we came up short and Leah got the job done. This a part of racing and understand the strength of competition. We are a resilient group that thrives when the pressure mounts. We have four more races and plenty of time to continue progressing forward.’
Yesterday Ashley was able to pick up a win for the Wyakin Foundation, the charity of choice for Ashley and his Phillips Connect team, when he was presented a check for $2,500 from Toyota as part of the Supra Showdown event. Throughout the season Ashley and the rest of the Toyota Top Fuel drivers battled their Toyota Funny Car teammates in head-to-head races leading up to this weekend. Antron Brown took the final win light over Ron Capps to secure victory for Ashley and team Top Fuel.
“It was great to raise money for the Wyakin Foundation as well as a lot of other great organizations through the Supra Showdown all year,” said Ashley. “I love representing Toyota and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. Certain things are bigger than racing and charity is one of them.”
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team will be back on track on Friday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals from World Wide Technology Raceway.