CHARLOTTE, NC -- For the second consecutive NHRA Countdown race Justin Ashley drove the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy to a runner-up finish. This weekend Ashley raced from the No. 1 spot, the second of his career, to the final round against technical research and development alliance teammate Antron Brown. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year defeated Alex Laughlin, Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta to reach the tenth final round of his Top Fuel career.
Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team faced Laughlin in the opening session and the two-time winner this season was not taking Laughlin lightly. He was first off the line with a trademark quick .048 second reaction time and he never trailed in the race. His winning time of 3.688 seconds was his second consecutive pass in the 3.6s and set him up for a tough race against Countdown contender and four-time world champion Steve Torrence.
Ashley kept his win streak against the reigning champion alive by turning on his sixth win light in a row this season. Once again Ashley was off the line first and he recorded a smooth and straight 3.697 second pass for the win. The Phillips Connect Toyota Vita C Energy team advanced to their ninth semifinal in the previous eleven races.
The semifinal was another championship caliber match-up with a Countdown car driven by Kalitta, a 49-time Top Fuel winner. For the third round in a row Ashley got a starting line advantage, this time with a shocking .025 second reaction time, to blast to his tenth career final and sixth of the season. It was another 3.6 second run as the Phillips Connect dragster crossed the finish line 3.691 seconds after it launched off the starting line. The young driver had his hands full at the top end as his 11,000-horsepower dragster sashayed across the finish line.
“The two round wins over Steve and Doug were huge for this Phillips Connect team,” said Ashley. “Those are guys that have so much experience and race wins. When you get a win light against either one of those guys you know you have done something special. I have to thank Mike Green, Tommy DeLago and Dustin Davis plus the crew for all their hard work. Every win light is the result of a pit full of guys working together.”
The final round was a clash of two of the most dynamic drivers and team owners in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. This was the first time the technical alliance teammates have raced in a final round against each other and the zMax Dragway crowd was on the edge of their seats when both dragsters completed their burnouts. For the first time Ashley was second off the starting line as Brown dug deep and threw down a .035 reaction time beside Ashley’s solid .055 reaction time. Both dragsters made flawless runs, but it was the nose of Brown’s Matco Tools dragster crossing the stripe first.
“That was the kind of final round that makes the Countdown one of the most amazing elements of our sport,” said Ashley. “I am so close to Antron and he has been a great mentor so racing him for the first time in the final was exciting. We share a pit basically and there wasn’t a lot of talking before that final. He brings out the best in me and today he was a little better but that will only make me better for the next race.”
At the end of the day Ashley leaves the Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals with a 43-point lead over second place after he entered the race with a seven-point lead. Four races remain in the Countdown and Ashley’s over two round lead is a luxury that he knows he must protect heading to the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis in less than a week.
“We were able to extend our points lead and that was our goal coming into this race,” said Ashley. “We have a long way to go before this season wraps up, but this was a good weekend for this Phillips Connect Toyota Vita C Energy team. There are so many tough competitors out here. I am proud of our effort and we will be turning our focus to St. Louis.”