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Camrie Caruso, Justin Ashley & Cruz Pedregon Top Qualifiers For The NHRA Winternationals In Pomona

POMONA, CA (April 1, 2023) --- For the second time in her young career, Pro Stock rising star Camrie Caruso raced to the No. 1 qualifier at an NHRA national event. On the strength of her Friday afternoon pass of 6.518 seconds at 211.79 mph, during round one of qualifying for the NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip Caruso will lead the Pro Stock field into eliminations tomorrow. Caruso and the Powerbuilt Tools Chevrolet Camaro will face Steve Graham in the first round. The 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year will bring momentum into the race looking to keep her win streak alive after her victory last weekend at the NHRA Arizona Nationals.

“We're really excited to be number one heading into Sunday,” said Caruso. “We wanted to win the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, but hopefully we'll have another shot at it in Vegas. We'll just focus on winning the race tomorrow. I think we'll be just fine. My guys are really smart. They know what they're doing. We were number one coming in today and we didn't really need to kill it on the performance side. It was way different than it was yesterday. We will be just fine tomorrow.”

The last time Caruso was No. 1 was her fifth start of her rookie year and she raced to the final round at the SpringNationals in Houston. After winning in Phoenix last weekend Caruso has confidence and a strong race car going into race day at the Winternationals.

“I was really calm on Sunday in Phoenix,” said Caruso, from the Shav Glick Media Center. “I'm just going to continue to try and stay calm and not let anything rattle me. We're just going to focus on the win lights.”

During the first session of qualifying today Caruso was upset in the opening round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge racing veteran Matt Hartford. Last weekend Caruso got the win light but today Hartford got to the finish line stripe first, then went on to win the Challenge and its $5,000 top prize. In her losing effort Caruso posted the quickest losing time and earned an important championship bonus point.

“We wanted to get that Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win, but we will definitely take that championship point,” said Caruso. “Those points will add up and we just want to give this Powerbuilt Tools Chevrolet Camaro race car every advantage we can. I am excited for tomorrow and going after my second Pro Stock win.”

Reigning NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals winner Justin Ashley saved the best for last today at In-N-Out Dragstrip racing to the No. 1 qualifier position and winning the $10,000 top prize in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge outrunning Leah Pruett in the final round. His winning time of 3.707 seconds at 330.15 mph moved him around provisional Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force and earned the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year three important qualifying bonus points. It was a monster run for the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by National Debt Relief as they head into Sunday looking to defend their Winternationals title and win for the second week in a row after taking the win at the NHRA Arizona Nationals.

“I think this is probably the best Saturday I think I've ever had at the racetrack,” said Ashley, from the Shav Glick Media Center. “It's amazing to win the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge and go to No. 1. It's great for the fans, but it's also great for the teams. It really was a great day for this Phillips Connect Toyota team powered by National Debt Relief, and it is a positive step in the right direction.”

In the first round of qualifying Ashley defeated Steve Torrence in a close race. Ashley was first off the line and his 3.751 second pass held up at the finish line for the win.

“Arizona really paid dividends for us not only because we won the race, but we got four extra rounds of racing on Sunday,” said Ashley. “We have a new tune up and new combination. Mike Green and Tommy DeLago have obviously done a great job learning and adapting and you saw the results here this last session. Mike and Tommy have been doing a great job and we are seeing the benefits these past two races. You want to find some kind of momentum and maintain some kind of consistency. To be able to take what we did in Phoenix and now apply it here so far, Friday and Saturday really goes a long way. It gives us more data, more information, more to learn from for our Phillips Connect team.”

This was the third No. 1 qualifier for Ashley and the Phillips Connect team and first of the 2023 season. The last time Ashley was No. 1 he raced to the final round at the Betway Nationals zMax Dragway outside of Charlotte during the 2022 NHRA Countdown. The fourth-year pro gave all the credit to his team and their efforts throughout the offseason and the start of this season.

“We're resilient. These guys don't stop until we get it right and. Mike and Tommy have championship winning experience and it really pays dividends. You see it every run. Those guys are quiet, they're meticulous. They go about their job the right way and I'm just happy with today's result.”

Ashley will face No. 14 qualifier Krista Baldwin in the first round. A win in the first round would provide a bye run in round two. Ashley and his team are not taking anyone lightly in one of the toughest Top Fuel fields in recent memory.

“Make no mistake about it. We are racing Krista Baldwin in the first round, but we are not looking past that match-up,” said Ashley. “Everybody out here has good stuff and we have got to do our job. The focus will be on round one and we won’t change our focus until we light up a win light tomorrow.”

Cruz Pedregon survived as the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car despite a star-crossed day, his 3.865 from Friday night leading the way. Pedregon lost his first qualifying run Saturday with a parachute issue on the starting line, then didn’t make it down under power on his final pass in the Snap-On Tools Dodge.

“I was in the car strapped in when [John] Force had his incident and [NHRA] said it was going to be 30 minutes, so I jumped out of the car,” he explained. “Somehow, the little parachute button on the steering wheel did not get the locking mechanism attached and I either hit it with my knee or someone hit it

"I didn't think that .86 would hold up at all particularly last night because I shut the engine off -- I did have a cylinder up just about past half track and so I felt something -- and I questioned myself because thought, ‘Man I probably could wring its neck out a little longer there.’ I thought we left a little on the table there but [the weather] warmed up just enough to keep the guys from getting there.”

Alexis DeJoria, who won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in Phoenix and was runner-up in Pomona’s Challenge behind Chad Green, qualified her Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota No. 2 at 3.883 with Arizona Nationals champ Robert Hight (3.892) and Arizona Nationals low qualifier Bob Tasca (3.899) right behind her.

J.R. Todd also had a tough day, getting wrapped up in John Force’s parachutes after the 16-time world champ lost control of his Camaro and darted into Todd’s lane, damaging both cars. Todd and the DHL team had to bring out a spare to continue qualifying but didn’t make it down the track in Q3 and ended up fifth with their Friday 3.935.

Tim Wilkerson (3.938), Blake Alexander (3.941), and world champ Ron Capps (3.943) round out the top eight.

Thirteen teams qualified in the three-second zone and Force, who also ended up bringing out a backup car, sits on the bump with a 4.162 and will race Pedregon in round one.

The Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals continue with eliminations slated for 11 a.m. on Sunday. Television coverage of the event continues with a qualifying show Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Eliminations will begin on FS1 Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

See the full recap from Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor:

Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Saturday photo gallery:

Content: NHRA | Werner Communications

Photo's: NHRA | SR Driven Media | Gary Nastase (Auto Imagery)


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