NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Justin Ashley: "The more you win, the more you want to win"

Justin Ashley developed a taste for winning early this season, and he became insatiable as the year progressed. With the car to beat, the winner of the regular season was in championship contention until the final race in an exemplary year.
15 Dec 2023
Kelly Wade
Justin Ashley

Justin Ashley developed a taste for winning early in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, and he became insatiable as the year progressed. With the car to beat, the winner of the regular season was in championship contention until the final race in an exemplary year. 

"We feel really good about the season, even though we didn't finish the way that we wanted to or the way that we expected to,” said Ashley, who concluded the season in the semifinals at the Pomona closer. He landed No. 4 in the Top Fuel championship standings but came away with more round-wins over the course of the season than any other driver in the class. Ashley's 40 round-wins were followed by 39 for Steve Torrence (No. 2 in the final standings), 32 for Leah Pruett (No. 3), and 29 for both champion Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown (No. 6). Mike Salinas finished fifth and had 24 overall round-wins. 

"We put ourselves in a position to win with three rounds left on the final day of racing. That's all you can really ask for," Ashley continued. "I'm just proud of the effort that this Phillips Connect group put in all year long. It was an impressive effort all year with tight turnaround times, different weather conditions, and so many variables, but they came through each and every time."

Ashley's Phillips Connect Toyota team, led by Mike Green, Tommy DeLago, and Dustin Davis, rebounded swiftly from an early exit in Gainesville to change the entire tune of the season. The first-round loss at the NHRA Gatornationals was followed by back-to-back wins in Phoenix and Pomona, and the NHRA Winternationals No. 1 qualifier proved to have a car that could win nearly any race. 

"I think that was the most significant, pivotal moment," he reflected. "We didn't perform the way that we wanted to in Gainesville, so the important thing was going to be how we responded the next week in Arizona. We responded by winning the race, then we followed up by winning the next race after. That was a turning point for us; it showed the fortitude of our team."

Ashley and his crew accelerated forward and earned a generous amount of bonus qualifying points to complement two low-qualifier awards and six wins in seven final rounds. Their regular-season success came with a ticket to the Countdown to the Championship as the No. 1 seed.

Just as valuable as the top spot were the bags of Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge points that came into play as soon as the points were reset for the playoffs. Ashley, who was impressive at the starting line as the class leader in reaction times, won a remarkable six #2Fast2Tasty battles. 

"The more you win, the more you want to win," said second-generation nitro pilot Ashley. "We won a lot of races this year, a lot of Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenges, but not coming out with the championship trophy is certainly motivating."

In direct opposition to what happened last season, Ashley's challenges set in as the Countdown kicked off this year. Although he logged his third No. 1 of the season at the first race of the playoffs, Ashley was out on an uncharacteristic holeshot loss in the second round at Maple Grove Raceway. A first-round exit next to Pruett  in Charlotte was followed by a quarterfinals loss to Torrence in St. Louis and a fateful bow out to Clay Millican in the first round in Dallas.

Ashley saw a glimmer of brightness as he reached the final round in Las Vegas, where Salinas took the trophy, and he clocked out of the season with a trip to the semi's at the NHRA Finals to lock in for fourth in the points. 

"The Countdown, particularly the last couple of races, really was an experience," said Ashley. "I think we took a lot [away] that we can learn as a group. And as a team, it was a reiteration of something that we already know, which is not to focus on anything that's outside of our control – to control what we can control and just be mechanical, go out there, and try and do the same thing every time as a driver and as a team and let the points take care of themselves."

Ashley and his team have shown progress since his three-race debut in 2019. He finished No. 7 in 2020 – his first full season – and in 2021, he landed No. 4 in the final standings. It was a position he would replicate in 2022 and again this year. Coming so close to the championship in both 2022 and 2023 has the Plainview, N.Y., racer in a position of clarity and gratitude as he begins to envision the future. 

"I wouldn't be here without the support of my family, especially my mom and dad, Phillips Connect, Toyota, and everyone on the Maynard Ashley Racing team," said Ashley. "That was huge this season, [along with] long-time partners like KATO Fastening Systems, Chip Lofton and Strutmasters.com, Impact, Lucas Oil, and Mac Tools. I am surrounded by so many awesome people and companies, and it was amazing to share so many winner circles with them in 2023. I'm looking forward to more celebrations in 2024.

"I think overall, our attitude about everything, and having a healthy, good understanding of what we're looking at, will really prove to be invaluable," said Ashley. "It's a new year and a fresh start, beginning 2024."