Drag Illustrated Issue 180, January / February 2023 | Page 105

BREAKOUT RACER OF THE YEAR |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


One could say 2020 was Justin Ashley ’ s breakout season in NHRA Top Fuel . After all , he won his first race on his way to the NHRA Rookie of the Year award . But 2022 was the year Ashley and his Davis Motorsports team proved they ’ re not just here to win races . They ’ re here to win championships .
Ashley kicked off the season with a promising performance at the Winternationals , qualifying No . 2 and making four runs between 3.692 and 3.702 in eliminations to get the event win . Another win followed at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol , this time from the No . 14 position .
Back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Pep Boys Nationals in Reading and the Betway Carolina Nationals in Charlotte gave Ashley the points lead at the start of the six-race Countdown to the Championship . The driver of the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel dragster powered by Vita C Energy then suffered a first-round loss at the Midwest Nationals in St . Louis before bouncing back with a well-timed victory at the
Texas FallNationals in Dallas .
Ashley ’ s championship campaign was dealt a devastating blow at the Nevada Nationals in Las Vegas , where Ashley slowed to a 3.754 while opponent Clay Millican laid down a 3.695 in the opening round . Still , the second-generation nitro driver went into the Auto Club Finals at Pomona second in points with a shot at the championship . The title hopes were dashed in the opening round , though , by technical alliance teammate Antron Brown .
The end result was a fourth-place finish in points , matching his finish in 2021 . But this year was different . He added three wins and four runner-up finishes to his career statistics , plus earned his first two No . 1 qualifier awards , remaining a contender right up to the final day of the season .
As a driver , Ashley held up to pressure throughout the season , especially the critical Countdown portion . He had the best average reaction time among all full-time Top Fuel drivers through the season , but he was a straight-up assassin in the
. He left first in 14 of his 15 playoff rounds , including an . 038 in Vegas and a . 045 in Pomona .
“ Going into the Countdown when you ’ ve never really experienced being in legitimate championship contention before , you ’ re only playing a guessing game ,” Ashley says . “ But now having gone through it , I understand what it feels like , what the moment feels like to be in that pressure situation .”
Given his reaction time statistics , it ’ s safe to assume Ashley will be right back to championship contention in 2023 . Also continuing the fight with Ashley are championship-caliber crew chiefs Mike Green and Tommy DeLago , team leader Dustin Davis , and the rest of the crew that contributed to the 2022 campaign . Ashley believes that continuity will be advantageous for 2023 and beyond .
“ Our team did a great job ,” Ashley says . “ They did a fantastic job putting us in a position to win come the last day of the year in Pomona . Unfortunately , we didn ’ t capitalize , but we took a lot of data from the season and a lot of stuff that we can apply to next year that will really help us be successful .” – NATE VAN WAGNEN DI
January / February 2023 DragIllustrated . com | Drag Illustrated | 105