For the second time this season Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy raced to victory. Today at the 20th Thunder Valley Nationals Ashley raced through a gauntlet of tough competitors to secure his fourth career Top Fuel title and move up to third place in the Camping World Drag Racing Series point standings. Ashley defeated Josh Hart, Doug Foley, Steve Torrence and finally Shawn Langdon on the way to the Bristol Dragway winner’s circle.
For the second time in his young Top Fuel career Ashley raced to victory from the No. 14 qualifier position. His first career victory in 2020 came from the No. 14 spot and Ashley was thrilled to show how competitive Top Fuel is and how his team has a never give up attitude.
“It is always challenging, especially when Friday and Saturday don’t go as planned,” said Ashley. “That is why you race on Sunday. You can win from any spot in that field if you get in. You aren’t catching a break in either nitro category no matter where you qualify. There is very little room for error. Our guys stepped up to the occasion today.”
Starting the day from the bottom half of the qualifying sheet Ashley had an immediate hurdle to clear in fellow team owner and driver Josh Hart. Ashley secured the big first round win over another rising Top Fuel star in Hart, who was the No. 3 qualifier. Ashley’s winning time of 3.824 seconds edged out Hart’s 3.827 second pass.
In the second round Ashley drew veteran Doug Foley who earlier this year raced to the final round at the Arizona Nationals. It was a No. 14 versus No. 11 race to see who could get to the semifinals. Both drivers left the starting line together and by half-track Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota dragster was pulling away with another smooth run. The track temperatures began creeping up, so Ashley’s winning elapsed time of 3.917 seconds was enough to get the win. Ashley was having to dig deep to keep his focus as the day progressed.
“You must have a lot of mental toughness to be out here when everything is on the line,” said Ashley. “The mental side and some of the visual techniques I use is something I take pride in. I am always working on that side of the sport. The mental side is just as important as the physical side if not more important some days. It is a key aspect for a winning driver.”
“It was tricky this weekend especially in the middle of the day. The cars were all kind of spinning the tires down track. When it is difficult and tricky to navigate that makes it even more special to go rounds. I just try and do the same tinge every time I pull up to the starting line no matter who I am racing. My crew chiefs did a great job looking at the track and analyzing it. They took that data from Friday and Saturday and set up to do what we needed to do to get the win today. I am really proud of this entire Phillips Connect Toyota Vita C Energy team.”
The semifinal race was another head-to-head battle with reigning Top Fuel world champion Torrence. Coming into this season Ashley held a 2-8 record versus the four-time Top Fuel champion. This season Ashley is 4-0 against Torrence with three of those wins coming in the semifinals and twice Ashley has gone on to win the national event.
Today Ashley was first off the line and never trailed in the race crossing the finish line with a strong 3.816 second pass at 323.35 mph. The win moved Ashley into his fourth final round of the season and no one on Ashley’s team was taking Torrence lightly.
“Those guys are the best,” said crew chief Mike Green, after outrunning Capco team in semifinals. “They are four-time champs and racing them is really motivating. Justin is driving his butt off and the team is doing a great job. We are excited to be getting back to another final.”
“The beautiful thing about this sport is it is a complete team effort by this Phillips Connect team,” said Ashley, after his semifinal win over Torrence. “So proud of Mike and Tommy DeLago. Shawn will be a tough opponent in the final for sure. I am looking forward to an awesome final round that should be a lot of fun. Beating Steve in the semifinals was great but I have a lot of respect for Steve and his Capco team. We were just focusing on our lane. It was about racing the racetrack.”
The final round wrapped up an amazing day of racing for Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team powered by Vita C Energy. Three major round wins and a second consecutive final round had Ashley holding some momentum as the day wrapped up. As Ashley’s father, Mike, stood on the starting line on Father’s Day Ashley left first off the line and raced to a win that moved him up in the points and gave the 2020 Rookie of the Year a sizable buffer on the drivers chasing him in the points.
“This win is very emotional for me and for our entire team,” said Ashley, in the Bristol Dragway media center. “Every win is special in their own way. There is something about Bristol. It is so prestigious and its Father’s Day weekend. My father won in 2005 and now you fast forward to me in the winner’s circle in Top Fuel. This is a collective team effort with Phillips Connect and Vita C Energy.”
“This track has so much history. You look at the famous names that are Legends of Thunder Valley. It is a privilege to race here. It was a lot of fun to win on Father’s Day with my dad here. I was teasing him about how he is impossible to shop for on holidays like Father’s Day. I was like you’re welcome here is something I can give you. I am really happy to win this race on Father’s Day for my dad and for all our teams’ fathers,” added Ashley.
While Ashley celebrated on the starting line with primary sponsors Phillips Connect and Vita C Energy Ashley and his Davis Motorsports team also were quick to credit the support from Auto Shocker, Lucas Oil, and KATO Fastening Systems throughout the season.
“This win was for all our sponsors that continue to make this dream a reality for me,” said Ashley. “Every race I am getting texts and messages from our supporters. That motivates me and the team. I know we have so much support it makes wins like this extra special.”
NHRA Camping World Series Top Fuel Top 10 Point Standings (Unofficial):
1 Brittany Force 724
2 Mike Salinas 699
3 Justin Ashley 672
4 Steve Torrence 653
5 Austin Prock 459
6 Shawn Langdon 435
7 Clay Millican 430
8 Josh Hart 414
9 Doug Kalitta 405
10 Antron Brown 370
See the full story and recap by Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor:
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Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals – Norwalk, Ohio