SONOMA, CA --- After a dominant weekend, championship contender Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma raced to victory today at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Ashley picked up his fifth win of the season in his sixth final round appearance defeating Doug Kalitta, Austin Prock, Josh Hart and Antron Brown to secure his tenth career Top Fuel win. The win moved Ashley back into the Top Fuel point lead after only one week in the No. 2 spot. Ashley will also compete in his sixth Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge in two weeks, a specialty event that he has already won five times collecting $50,000 and 15 champions points. The success exhibited today at Sonoma Raceway has Ashley and the Phillips Connect team eager to close out the regular season and head into the NHRA Countdown playoffs.
“The competition is so difficult,” said Ashley. “It's so hard. It really feels like every round is a final round each time you get up there. There's no margin for error. I knew it would take a real team effort to win a race this weekend, and it did my crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago had an incredible race day.”
Ashley started his race day with a tough first round opponent in Toyota teammate Kalitta. It was a battle of two Mac Tools backed teams looking to keep building momentum as the Western Swing ended. Ashley with the starting line advantage and never trailed for the win. He made his quickest run of the weekend with a winning time of 3.707 seconds against Kalitta’s 3.750 second, which was his best pass of the Sonoma Nationals.
In the quarterfinals Ashley had to take on No. 1 qualifier Prock. Ashley had the advantage of lane choice and the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year took a sizable starting line advantage and parlayed that into another trip to the semifinals. The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Okuma crossed the finish line with a winning time of 3.740 seconds at 327.03 mph ahead of Prock’s 3.761 seconds, 329.10 mph run. After the race Ashley was asked about how important round wins and points were to his team as the end of the regular season is approaching.
“Points are important whether they are earned early in the season or late in the season,” said Ashley, who will participate in his sixth Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge at the Topeka Nationals. “For our Phillips Connect Toyota team that isn’t something we really focus on. We are focused on taking it one round at a time. That has been our approach and we will keep doing that. At the end of the day, it is all about putting ourselves in a position to win the championship. For everyone at Phillips Connect and Toyota it is time to put these Mac Tools to work and get some Lucas Oil in this car and do it again.”
Racing Hart in the semifinals Ashley was chasing his 100th round win and trip to his 17th career final round. Each of these drivers was on a mission to get to the final round but it was Ashley getting the win on the strength of a solid reaction time and great performance numbers by his Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster. Ashley’s 3.768 second run was the quickest pass of the semifinals and gave him lane choice over Brown in the final round.
The final was a clash between Toyota teammates and technical alliance partners as Ashley and Brown squared off looking to close out a tough three race stretch with a win. Brown took an early starting line advantage but by 660 feet Ashley had pulled beside Brown and he took the win by .0001 with an elapsed time advantage of 3.778 seconds to 3.787 second with both dragsters nearly hitting the 330-mph mark.
“Maybe because it was the final round and I felt a little more dialed in so I didn't see him or hear him or anything,” said Ashley after the final. “I knew it was gonna be a close race no matter what most of the time when we lined up it is a close race and you got to credit Antron and his team. I was trying to do everything I could to stay focused on just you know my point ahead in our lane. I am happy to win such a close race.”
With the points lead and three races left in the regular season Ashley is not taking anything for granted. The team will head back to the shop and begin preparing for the Topeka Nationals in two weeks. The win today gave Ashley some momentum after a tough start to the three-race stretch.
“We didn't have the results that we wanted during the first two races in the Swing but you know just like we put the qualifying in the past we're going to put those races in the past,” said Ashley. “It's go time. We’re gonna get after it and really start to develop our tune up. So everyone's really got to start hitting their stride now when you see it and there's absolutely no letting up.”