CONCORD, NC (September 24, 2022) — Justin Ashley drove the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy to the No. 1 qualifier position at the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals today at zMax Dragway. It was Ashley’s second career No. 1 qualifier and second consecutive No. 1 at zMax Dragway, after his No. 1 effort at the Circle K Four-Wide Nationals earlier this season. His No. 1 run came during a quick third and final session that saw four drivers run around provisional No. 1 qualifier Doug Kalitta before Ashley’s 3.668 second run at 335.65 mph secured the top spot.
“I usually try and stay within myself but that session I was peeking at the SunocoVision trying to see what the teams in front of us ran,” said Ashley in the zMax Dragway media center. “I could tell they ran in the 3.60s and those are some good teams. I knew Mike Green and Tommy DeLago would try and go up there to do the same. I figured Mike and Tommy were going to try and run a little quicker. You can try as much as you want but going out there and doing it successfully really speaks volumes about our team.”
Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy, photo by Ron Lewis
The 2020 Rookie of the Year’s success at zMax Dragway has extended to his first career start in 2019 when he raced to a semifinal finish in his professional debut.
“Far and away this is the most beautiful facility on tour,” said Ashley, who raced to a runner-up finish last weekend at the first Countdown event. “I think as soon as you pull in you realize how gorgeous this place is and how clean it is. We have had a lot of success during qualifying here at the first two races in Charlotte this season. We are going to enjoy this one tonight and then put it behind us to focus on the race tomorrow.”
Ashley made the third quickest run Friday to earn one qualifying bonus point and his team picked up another three points with the quickest run of the third session. The ability to grab the little points has the four-time Top Fuel national event winner excited for his championship aspirations.
Phillips Connect Executive Vice President Jim Epler and No. 1 qualifier Justin Ashley, photo by Ron Lewis
“Consistency is critical especially during the Countdown,” said Ashley, who has raced to at least the semifinals in six of the previous seven national events. “If you want to win races you obviously have to go A to B, but you also want to be able to collect those bonus points. All those points add up quickly. We are going down the track every run trying to stay within ourselves. We are not trying to shock the world. It is important to be consistent and to qualify well to put yourself in the best position to win the race on Sunday. The way the Top Fuel field is now no matter where you qualify it is going to be a difficult first round.”
Ashley will face No. 16 qualifier Alex Laughlin who has a 3-1 career head-to-head record against in the first round. Earlier this season Ashley defeated the versatile driver in the first round at the Sonoma Nationals. As the current points leader Ashley knows that there are no easy rounds during the final five races of the Countdown.
“Every race is a dogfight no matter who you are racing,” said Ashley. “I think the other teams would tell you that they are worrying about themselves. We are worried about ourselves. We have made the statement that we are here to play. We have great sponsors with Phillips Connect. We are out here having fun and trying to build something special. To see how far this program has come is a testament to this team and our marketing partners. To Dustin Davis, Mike and Tommy as whole everyone has done a great job putting us in this position.”
Final eliminations will begin tomorrow at zMax Dragway at noon ET with the race being broadcast on FS1 from 3:00-6:00 p.m. ET.