Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy raced to their third final round of the season and seventh overall. Ashley entered race day as the No. 8 qualifier after a tough two days of qualifying. The Top Fuel championship contending team was sitting No. 16 heading into the final qualifying session on Saturday night and a strong final run moved them into the top half of the field as the No. 8 qualifier. It was the Phillips Connect team’s toughest outing this season in qualifying. They dug deep and made their best run in Q3 when Ashley blasted down the track in 3.768 seconds at over 326 mph. It was Ashley’s only full pull over two days of qualifying. Crew chief Mike Green was glad to put up a decent number but knew the team had squandered some quality track time in the process.
“I have had it all screwed up since we got here,” said Mike Green. “There is a lot better track out there than we showed on that run. We just needed to get it down there to get in the show. We will look at it and hopefully we can do something better on race day. We will keep working on it and I am glad we got in on down through there. I am looking forward to racing tomorrow.”
“I think you take a lot of confidence from how we finished qualifying and came into race day,” added Ashley, who was the No. 1 qualifier at the Carolina Nationals. “You are going to have races like there where you struggle a little and while it wasn’t ideal in Q3 it was important to go out there and make a nice lap. We needed to get information for Sunday and that run really helped a lot to get a better understanding of the car.”
Ashley had to wait through several short delays in the first round before he took on Canadian Dan Mercier. The three-time national event winner was looking to string another solid run together in the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster to start his race day. Ashley got a huge starting line advantage with a .054 reaction time and never trailed in the race. Ashley’s winning time of 3.743 seconds at 332.10 mph was a big step up from his best qualifying effort. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year earned lane choice over Scott Farley, who upset the No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence.
Farley who was competing in his first NHRA national event suffered serious engine damage in his first round win and was unable to make the call for the quarterfinals. Ashley was given a competition bye, a first in his Top Fuel career. The team took full advantage of the chance to lay down a solid run in advance of the semifinals. Ashley’s Phillips Connect race car lit up the scoreboard with a 3.786 second pass at 328.06 mph to advance.
“We didn’t expect to have a bye. I had hoped that Scott would be able to make it up for the second round but nonetheless you take the bye when you can get it,” said Ashley. “There is something about a second round bye that is really nice. It takes the pressure off a little bit. You also want to try and get lane choice and give yourself the best chance for success in the semifinals. We did everything the same.”
Ashley’s semifinal opponent proved to be one of the toughest challenges of the day as he pulled up beside 2013 Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon in his DHL Toyota Top Fuel dragster. The winner of the season opening Winternationals knew he would need to be at the top of his game if he wanted to advance to the final round. Langdon was first of the line, but Ashley quickly caught up and moved around him. From 300 feet to the finish line Ashley widened his lead to take the win 3.750 seconds to 3.872 seconds.
Racing for his second win of the season in the left lane Ashley was fired up to take on Mike Salinas who was one of three drivers in front of the racer from Plainview, New York in Top Fuel. Ashley had closed the gap to within seven points of third place Steve Torrence throughout the day but Salinas and point leader Brittany Force had over a 100-point lead. In the final both cars took off together and were side by side for the first 800 feet. As the finish line neared Salinas was able to pull away for his third win of the season in three final rounds.
“That was just a tough final round,” said Ashley. “Mike Green did a great job and they laid down a good run. I thought we had a consistent race car today and I think that is important. There is a lot of information and data we continue to learn from. Stacking up these rounds is important for the points and they are also important for getting more information. All in all, we didn’t complete our objective, but it was a successful weekend.”
In addition to Phillips Connect and Vita C Energy Ashley and his Davis Motorsports team receive backing from Auto Shocker, Lucas Oil, and KATO Fastening Systems throughout the season. This weekend they hosted several guests in their Lucas Oil hospitality area. For Ashley the off-track interactions are as significant as the round wins on race day.
“We have had a number of guests join us throughout the season and we will see more as the season goes on,” said Ashley. “We have added a Phillips Connect technology trailer which debuted this weekend and I love being able to spend time with our guests throughout the weekend. Going rounds on race day and getting to another final is great but it is even sweeter when you can share it with the people that make this all possible.”
Ashley will head to the Thunder Valley Nationals sitting fourth in the Camping World point standings less than a round from third place.
Q1: 9.974 sec, 72.98 mph; Qual. 14
Q2: 10.450 sec, 78.23 mph; Qual. 16
Q3: 3.768 sec, 326.08 mph; Qual. 8
Bonus Points: 0
Justin Ashley, Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Vita C Energy, 3.743, 332.10 mph def. Dan Mercier, St Michel, Canada, Amalie Motor Oil dragster, 6.139, 102.04 mph
Justin Ashley, Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Vita C Energy, 3.786, 328.06 mph def. bye (Scott Farley did not make call)
Justin Ashley, Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Vita C Energy, 3.750, 327.59 mph def. Shawn Langdon, Danville, Ind., DHL Toyota dragster, 3.776, 300.13 mph
Mike Salinas, San Jose, Calif., Valley Services dragster, 3.729, 330.80 mph def. Justin Ashley, Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by Vita C Energy, 3.782, 315.78 mph
Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Ten – Top Fuel
1. Brittany Force 668
2. Mike Salinas 638
3. Steve Torrence 569
4. Justin Ashley 561
5. Austin Prock 425
6. Clay Millican 396
7. Josh Hart 376
8. Doug Kalitta 373
9. Shawn Langdon 341
10. Tony Schumacher 329
Elon Werner PR