PLAINVIEW, NY (October 24, 2023) — Coming down the homestretch of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Justin Ashley and the Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel team powered by Phillips Connect are in familiar territory. Ashley, the 202 NHRA Rookie of the Year, is in the middle of a tight quartet of drivers trying to win the Top Fuel world championship. Last year Ashley was in an equally tight race with eventual champion Brittany Force and Steve Torrence. This year he needs to outpace Torrence, Leah Pruett and Doug Kalitta for the championship with only 108 points separating the four drivers.
“We have been in this position before and I think we can lean on that experience,” said Ashley, a six-time Top Fuel winner in 2023. “Last year we were in and out of the points lead during the Countdown and there were always several teams grouped together trying to take the top spot. The field is more competitive than it’s ever been, and it’s shown throughout the first four races of the Countdown. If we can find success in Las Vegas I believe we’ll have an opportunity for the championship in Pomona.”
Three of the four top teams, including Ashley, are vying for their first championship. Kalitta has finished second six times in his career, most recently in 2020 and 2019. Pruett’s best finish in Top Fuel is fourth which she has accomplished three times in 2020, 2019 and 2018. Ashley has secured back-to-back fourth place finishes in 2021 and 2022. The opportunity to win his first championship after a stellar regular season is top of mind for Ashley and the Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel team.
“Our goal from the start of the season was to win the world championship for this team and all our sponsors including Phillips Connect, Toyota, Mac Tools, KATO Fastening Systems, Lucas Oil, Impact, Strutmasters and now Leatherwood Distillery,” said Ashley. “We know what we need to do, and that begins by taking it one lap at a time in Las Vegas. Every opportunity for points is critical whether its qualifying or raceday.”
Throughout his career at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Ashley has had some solid outings at the Nevada Nationals. In 2020 he raced to the semifinals from the No. 12 qualifier position defeating Kalitta and Pruett in the first two rounds of that race. If he could duplicate those early round wins this year, he would put himself right in the middle of the point battle going into the final race of the season. The most recent two Nevada Nationals saw Ashley and his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago tuned Top Fuel dragster qualify No. 3 and in 2021 he raced to another semifinal finish.
“We have had some good races at the Nevada Nationals and hope to take it even a step further at this year’s race, said Ashley. “There are so many variables in this sport including the ladder and where everyone in the Countdown is positioned going into raceday. But all we can control is where we qualify and doing the very best that we can each and every lap down the racetrack. We aren’t going to approach anything differently when it comes to how we run our racecar.”
This year Ashley has had a breakout season winning six national events, tops in the Top Fuel category, and securing the No. 1 seed coming into the Countdown. Over the final nine races of the regular season Ashley’s team only experienced one first round exit (Denver) and one quarterfinal finish (Seattle). The remaining seven races included four wins, a runner-up and two semifinal finishes. In the first four Countdown races he has experienced two quarterfinal finishes and two first round losses, his toughest results stretch of the season.
“We all know you have to perform in the playoffs and we haven’t been able to capitalize on as many opportunities as we did in the regular season,” said Ashley. “But we have two more races and remain right in the thick of things. We just need to get back to our routine of stacking round wins on top of one another and let the points take care of themselves. Vegas is a city where fortunes can turn around in an instant and that is what we are going to be looking for. It will be exciting and I can’t wait to get to The Strip.”
The Leatherwood Distillery Top Fuel dragster powered by Phillips Connect will have two qualifying runs on Friday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. PT followed by two more qualifying sessions on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. PT. The final eliminations will begin at 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday for the quickest 16 Top Fuel teams. The race will be broadcasted nationally on FS1 on Sunday night.