Semifinal Final at Indy Bittersweet for Justin Ashley – Drag Illustrated

For the fourth consecutive national event, Justin Ashley drove the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy to a semifinal. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year moved up to third place in the Camping World Drag Racing Series as the usual sixteen-race run ended today at the 68th NHRA US Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park, formerly Lucas Oil Raceway. As the No. 2 seed, Ashley began his day with wins over Shawn Langdon and Billy Torrence before falling into a close race with the eventual winner, his Toyota teammate Antron Brown.

“I thought we had a great weekend,” said Ashley, a two-time national event winner from 2022. “This was my first full-fledged US National with the potential for five qualifying sessions and races on Monday. It was a long weekend where a lot happened on and off the track, the highlight of this weekend was the announcement of our extension with Phillips Connect.”

At a mid-afternoon news conference on Friday, Phillips Connect announced a multi-year extension with Justin Ashley Racing and Davis Motorsports. The marketing partnership began as a three-race program at the start of the season and quickly expanded to a full season after Ashley won the inaugural season of NHRA Winternationals. The extension solidifies one of the best teams in the NHRA for the foreseeable future. Phillips Connect and Vita C Energy lead a dynamic group of marketing partners including Bendix, Velociti, Sensata Insights, Lucas Oil and KATO Fastening Systems.

“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to continue working with Phillips Connect,” said Ashley. “The Phillips Connect Toyota Vita C Energy race car performed very well and we fell a bit short in a very close endurance race in the semis. I am proud of this team. Throughout the weekend they worked extraordinarily hard. (Crew managers) Mike Green and Tommy DeLago were amazing. Going into the countdown, we have a really good racing car.”

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In the first round, Ashley was up against one of the toughest drivers in the series, 2013 Top Fuel World Champion Shawn Langdon. Each of these drivers ranks among the leaders in the category for reaction time advantage. Both dragsters launched together and Ashley took the lead shortly after the cars topped 100 miles per hour on their way to the finish line at over 330 miles per hour. Ashley made the fastest run of the first round, a 3.690-second pass at 331.85 mph to earn the victory and improve his winning record in the first round to 8-1 in the last nine races.

“This is the US Nationals. It doesn’t get any bigger or worse than this,” Ashley said. “Part of my obligation to this team is to get off the starting line as fast as I can. That is super important. It is not an ego thing. It’s about putting our team in the best position to win because the way the field is set up now these races are decided by very slim margins. They give me a safe and fast racing car. I have the responsibility to deliver at the starting line. I feel good about how I performed this weekend, but there are still a lot of things I can learn from. I will continue to learn and improve.”

In the quarterfinals, Ashley faced Billy Torrence, one half of the Torrence Racing operation, which is also backed by Toyota and features four-time and reigning Top Fuel World Champion Steve Torrence. Ashley took advantage of the starting line and was never far behind in the drag race. Once again his Phillips Connect Toyota dragster was fastest in the session and the win set up a head-to-head battle with Toyota teammate and alliance technical partner Antron Brown.

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Competing for his fifth final of the season Ashley was fired up at the start line and capitalized on the reaction time from the start line. As his dragster crossed the halftrack, he seemed to start mixing cylinders, robbing her of much-needed power for the stretch to the finish line. Brown drove around Ashley on the strip with his fastest pass of the weekend. While the pass ended Ashley’s day, the third-year pro quickly shifted his attention to the countdown and the potential for his first championship.

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“I am excited about the countdown. Last year was my first Countdown experience and I think that experience will bode well for our team moving forward,” said Ashley, who finished 2021 in fourth place in Top Fuel. “We wanted to come into the Countdown in first place like everyone else, but we also wanted to be in a strong position to make a run at the championship if we weren’t No. 1. What I learned about Countdown is that the margin of error is very small. Every team here is doing well and we have to be in our Game A week in and week out. There are six races that are still a marathon, not a sprint. We have to give our best in this last part of the year”.

The countdown will begin at Maple Grove Raceway in two weeks with Ashley battling the toughest collection of Top Fuel drivers in recent memory for the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship.

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