NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Ashley has huge day in Top Fuel; Pedregon, Caruso hold onto Friday leads in Pomona

Justin Ashley, Cruz Pedregon, and Camrie Caruso will lead their respective fields into final eliminations Sunday at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip after earning the No. 1 qualifying positions for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.
01 Apr 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Race coverage
Justin Ashley

Justin Ashley, Cruz Pedregon, and Camrie Caruso will lead their respective fields into final eliminations Sunday at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip after earning the No. 1 qualifying positions for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.

Ashley, winner last weekend at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, had a spectacular Saturday, winning the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge and using his winning run of 3.707 to also take his Phillips Connect dragster to the No. 1 qualifying spot, the third of his career.

"I really wasn't sure if [that kind of run] was out there before we ran,” said Ashley. “I just let [crew chiefs] Mike Green and Tommy DeLago do the great job that they always do, and obviously it was out there. 

“Arizona really paid dividends for us not only because we won the race, but we got four extra rounds of racing on Sunday for our new tune-up. They've obviously have done a great job learning and adapting, and I think you saw the results here this last session.”

Friday low qualifier Brittany Force slipped to second with her Friday 3.712 as her run of record but she also impressed in Q3 with a 3.720 in her Flav-R-Pac entry before Ashley stole the show.

Leah Pruett, runner-up to Ashley in the Mission Challenge, had the quickest car of the second qualifying session with a 3.725 that boosted her Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters car to No. 3 in the field.

Antron Brown (3.730), Mike Salinas (3.731), Steve Torrence (3.736), Shawn Langdon (3.758), and Tony Schumacher (3.762) round out the top eight qualifiers.

Krista Baldwin, who qualified No. 14, will be Ashley’s first-round opponent with a bye run in the offing for the winner on the 14-car ladder.

Pedregon survived as the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car despite a star-crossed day, his 3.865 from Friday night leading the way. Pedregon lost his first qualifying run Saturday with a parachute issue on the starting line, then didn’t make it down under power on his final pass in the Snap-On Tools Dodge.

“I was in the car strapped in when [John] Force had his incident and [NHRA] said it was going to be 30 minutes, so I jumped out of the car,” he explained. “Somehow, the little parachute button on the steering wheel did not get the locking mechanism attached and I either hit it with my knee or someone hit it

"I didn't think that .86  would hold up at all particularly last night because I shut the engine off -- I did have a cylinder up just about past half track and so I felt something -- and I questioned myself because thought, ‘Man I probably could wring its neck out a little longer there.’ I thought we left a little on the table there but [the weather] warmed up just enough to keep the guys from getting there.”

Alexis DeJoria, who won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge in Phoenix and was runner-up in Pomona’s Challenge behind Chad Green, qualified her Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota No. 2 at 3.883 with Arizona Nationals champ Robert Hight (3.892) and Arizona Nationals low qualifier Bob Tasca (3.899) right behind her.

J.R. Todd also had a tough day, getting wrapped up in John Force’s parachutes after the 16-time world champ lost control of his Camaro and darted into Todd’s lane, damaging both cars. Todd and the DHL team had to bring out a spare to continue qualifying but didn’t make it down the track in Q3 and ended up fifth with their Friday 3.935.

Tim Wilkerson (3.938), Blake Alexander (3.941), and world champ Ron Capps (3.943) round out the top eight.

Thirteen teams qualified in the three-second zone and Force, who also ended up bringing out a backup car, sits on the bump with a 4.162 and will race Pedregon in round one.

Caruso, hot off of her breakthrough first Pro Stock win last weekend at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, collected her second career No. 1 qualifying effort, her Friday 6.519 easily surviving on a hot and tricky Saturday. Caruso also participated in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge but fell out in the first round.

“We're really excited to be No. 1 and heading into Sunday,” she said. “We wanted to win the Mission Challenge, so now we'll just focus all of our focus on tomorrow.

“I think we'll be just fine. My guys are really smart. They know what they're doing. We were No. 1 and we didn't really need to kill it. It was way different conditions than it was yesterday but will we just fine tomorrow.”

Matt Hartford, winner of the event’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, kept his GETTRX Camaro in the second spot with a 6.524. Aaron Stanfield jumped from fourth Friday to third Saturday with a stout 6.528 that moved him past Dallas Glenn’s matching but slower-speed pass.

Arizona Nationals runner-up Bo Butner  (6.533),  Greg Anderson (6.534), Cristian Cuadra (6.534), and Gatornationals winner Troy Coughlin Jr. (6.539) round out the top eight. Steve Graham finished on the bump spot with a 6.601 and will be Caruso’s first-round opponent.