By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
Like many teams, it was going to be a busy weekend for Justin Ashley and his Phillips Connect Toyota Racing by racing two races in one with the NHRA‘s rain-delayed New England Nationals competing on the same weekend as the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.
However, Ashley knew it was an opportunity to double up with max points on the line by the weekend’s end including the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge on Saturday.
Ashley’s success started Saturday afternoon by running the completion of the New England Nationals. He started as the No. 10 qualifier and quietly worked his way up throughout each round with victories over Dan Mercier, Brittany Force, and former Top Fuel Champion Steve Torrence in the semis. In the final round on Saturday, Ashley squared off against All-time Top Fuel winner, Tony Schumacher.
Even though Schumacher’s E.T. time of 3.835 over Ashley’s 3.846, it was Ashley’s reaction time of 0.041 that propelled him to the victory of the New England Nationals. Not only did Ashley win the event, but he also won the Mission 2Fast2Tasty Challenge as well which was run in conjunction with the event.
“The key word for today’s success is team,” said Ashley. “You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I feel more than confident in saying I have the best group of people behind me. I am just grateful for everybody on this Maynard Ashley Racing, Phillips Connect, and Toyota team.
“Even going into the third round, it was a little wacky. It was a quick turnaround, and we did some damage, which we never normally do, but thankfully we got the win. I just have to credit the guys for putting everything together in time. The job that they always do is phenomenal, but especially this weekend working in the heat and getting it done on a Saturday, really is just amazing.”
Even so, Saturday afternoon was even sweeter for Ashley, who had a decent qualifying spot by qualifying fourth with a time of 3.755 at 327.74 mph entering a first-round match with No. 13 qualifier Doug Foley.
With forecasted rain late in the day, the start time was moved up to 10 a.m./ET from its original starting time of Noon eastern forcing the team to be on top of their A game.
In the first round, Ashley was easily victorious over Foley and advanced to the quarterfinals. Ashley won with a time of 3.673 at 328.70 mph over Foley’s 3.871 at 315.19 mph. The victory saw Ashley face a tough competitor of Josh Hart in E2.
During this match, the two stayed side-by-side and both cut similar reaction times by going 0.048 and Hart was 0.054. However, the Plainview, New York native won again cutting a time of 3.756 at 329.83 mph to move him onto the semi-finals facing John Force Racing’s Austin Prock.
Prock had victories over Cameron Ferre and Spencer Massey that propelled him to the semis to square off against Ashley. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ladder, Ashley’s technical teammate Antron Brown was racking up victories over tough competitors such as Brittany Force and previous Bristol Motor Dragway Legends of Thunder Valley Hall of Famer Tony Schumacher.
With all that in mind, it was another great drag race between Ashley and Prock, despite Ashley having a 7-1 advantage over Prock entering the matchup. When the two crossed the finish line, Ashley won by the closest of margins by 0.002 seconds which advanced him to the finals to face former Top Fuel champion, Antron Brown.
Knowing it would be a master round of Ashley and Brown for the finals, the two racers knew they had to be perfect on the tree and focus on getting A to B. As the Christmas tree turned green, Ashley cut a 0.050 light while Brown was a 0.051. Unfortunately, for Brown, he lost traction shortly after leaving the start line, which allowed Ashley to go on and win the race.
Ashley not only won his fourth victory of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season and the ninth of his career, but also set a new track record of 336.49 mph to win the race and thus ending a picture-perfect weekend at Bristol Dragway.
“I’m on cloud nine. It is just an amazing feeling. It’s so hard to win a race,” said Ashley, who has collected $30,000 and nine championship points for his Mission Challenge victories alone. “It is so difficult, so to be able to come into one weekend, in three days, and win two events and one Mission Foods Challenge, is really something special.
“It’s hard to turn on win lights in this sport, so I just have so much gratitude for my entire team and the work they did to turn this car around round after round and make sure it went down the race track. We had a lot of friends and family here – this is not too far from where the Maynards and Lehmans are from in Clarksville, so they had a lot of their friends out as well. It’s a big win for the entire team.”
NHRA Camping World Series Top Fuel Results
- Justin Ashley
- Antron Brown
- Doug Kalitta
- Austin Prock
- Steve Torrence
- Josh Hart
- Spencer Massey
- Tony Schumacher
- Brittany Force
- Shawn Langdon
- Leah Pruett
- Mike Salinas
- Doug Foley
- Dan Mercier
- Cameron Ferre
- Clay Millican
Official NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Top Fuel Series Points
- Justin Ashley, 633 points
- Steve Torrence, -64
- Brittany Force, -122
- Austin Prock, -122
- Antron Brown, -134
- Leah Pruett, -134
- Mike Salinas, -185
- Josh Hart, -200
- Doug Kalitta, -229
- Shawn Langdon, -267
Up Next: The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will take a weekend off before returning for the annual Summit Racing Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, June 23-25.