Nitro Stars Justin Ashley & Ron Capps Look To Defend Texas NHRA FallNationals Wins During Title Chase

Story By: NHRA – ENNIS, TX – Suffering his first bump in the road in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Top Fuel points leader Justin Ashley will look to bounce back at a track that served him well just a season ago.

Ashley is the defending event winner at the Texas Motorplex and a second straight victory at this weekend’s 37th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals would put him back on an ideal path to try and claim his first NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series world title.

Ashley advanced to the final round at the first two playoff races in his 11,000-horsepower Phillips Connect dragster but saw his lead evaporate to just 14 points with a first-round loss in St. Louis coupled with a victory by four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence.

Ashley, though, is not in panic mode, trusting a team that has helped produce a pair of victories and six final-round appearances during a standout 2022 season. Plus, Ashley has plenty of confidence racing in Dallas coming off last year’s win, hoping to replicate that to kick off the second half of the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“Our whole team’s excited about it,” Ashley said. “Obviously, we didn’t have the kind of weekend that we expected or the kind of weekend that we wanted in St. Louis. But I thought that we had a really productive first two races and if you had asked me prior to the Countdown if I would like to be in the position we’re in right now going to Dallas, of course, we would have said yes, So, we feel good about the position that we’re in. It was a really good regular season. I think it’s been a great countdown for us. But now all bets are off and we have to finish strong over these last few races.”

Ashley (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won last year’s playoff race and this season’s event will also be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) as the playoffs head to crunch time in Dallas. It is the 20th of 22 races during the 2022 NHRA season and Ashley has been consistent throughout, opening the year with a victory and never dropping lower than fourth in points.

That helped build Ashley’s confidence, as did racing with a team with a championship resumé. That’s helped erase some of the nerves involved in a race for the young standout’s first world championship, but Ashley knows there’s plenty of work to do, especially with a loaded field behind him. In all, there’s six drivers within 88 points of Ashley, including Torrence, Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, Antron Brown, Josh Hart, and Doug Kalitta. Force and Salinas are just 30 and 35 points behind, respectively, which means anything can happen over the final three races.

But Ashley’s sole focus is on this weekend, where he will try to recreate last year’s spectacular performance, one that included a win against Torrence in the final round.

“In the countdown, the margin for error is very small,” Ashley said. “We learned from (St. Louis) and moved on. For us, it’s all about Dallas, it’s not about Las Vegas, it’s not about Pomona. Right now, it’s about Dallas and going out there and putting our best foot forward and you know, come to the end of Dallas, we want to make sure that we collected enough bonus points that we stacked enough round wins to feel good about where we’re at heading into the last two races.

“We did expect to be here, and we just love that we’re in this situation. We are appreciative that we are where we are, but we need to focus because there’s a lot of people behind us right now that are ready to jump and pounce on any opportunity.”

In Funny Car, defending event winner Capps jumped right back in the mix after his playoff win in Charlotte. He dueled with points leader Robert Hight a week later in St. Louis, with Hight taking the victory in a thrilling final round. But Capps remains just 46 points back in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra heading to Dallas, where the two-time world champion has plenty of recent momentum.

He went 23 years between victories at the Texas Motorplex, but cashed in big-time last year, using that victory to hold off Matt Hagan in the title chase. In his first year as a team owner, Capps has enjoyed another strong season, picking up four wins and seven berths in the final round. To stay in championship contention, he’ll again have to deal with Hight, who has an incredible eight wins this season, as well as Hagan, who is 103 points out of the lead, John Force, Bob Tasca III, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria, and J.R. Todd. It’s no easy feat, especially considering the top four in the points standings – including Capps – have 300 career wins and 24 world championships, but Capps is ready for the rigors of the final three races.

“I think over the years, you just get hardened by all the ups and downs, but I just can’t wait to get to the track,” Capps said. “It’s just fun to be in this position. Robert has been on fire and that team has shown that they can run great in every condition, and they have eight wins. But there could be a chance to somebody had eight or more wins and not win the championship, and that’s the side of history that I’m planning on being on. I’ve been in some (really) close races and in this Countdown, it’s going to come down to the wire.”

In Pro Stock, points leader Erica Enders has been dominant with eight victories and a commanding 120-point lead over Aaron Stanfield. In her way of a fifth world title a loaded field that includes defending event winner Greg Anderson, who picked up his 100th career win last month, Dallas Glenn, rookie Camrie Caruso, Kyle Koretsky and Troy Coughlin Jr.

Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Matt Smith will look to move closer to his sixth world championship, but competition in the fast two-wheeled category is tight, with the points lead changing hands each of the last six races. Smith will have to deal with Joey Gladstone, three-time race winner Jerry Savoie, and Angie Smith, who is third in points.

There’s also plenty on the line to open qualifying on Friday as well for competitors in all four classes. The quickest pass under the lights during a special “Friday Night Live” at the famed Texas Motorplex will net Top Fuel and Funny Car stars $15,000 each in bonus money, with $7,500 going to the quickest run Friday night in Pro Stock and $5,000 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Plus fans can enjoy a spectacular performance from Grace Good, a world-renowned fire dancer and aerial performance, on Friday.

The Texas NHRA FallNationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which includes some of the sport’s top drivers, as well as the final race of the season in Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown and the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon. David Barton is the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown points leader, while Kris Thorne leads the way in Pro Mod as both look to capture a world title in Dallas. The weekend will also include action in Top Fuel Harley, as well as the Jr. Dragster Shootout. Fans can also attend Nitro School the on Saturday in Scott Palmer’s pits to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds.

Race fans at Texas Motorplex can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the Texas NHRA FallNationals event winners.

Leading into the event, fans can take part in several events as part of the Stampede for Speed, including a Pro Mod Shootout (October 11, 7-10 pm), NHRA Fall Nationals professional testing (October 12, 10am-6pm), the Champions’ Dinner (October 12, 6pm) and the NHRA FanFest in downtown Waxahachie (October 13, 6 pm), where fans can meet and get autographs from all the top stars in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.

As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Dallas. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family. The new Pep Boys midway display includes tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track, and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.

NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:30 and 7:05 p.m. CT on Friday, Oct. 14, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12:00 and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12:00 p.m. CT on Sunday, Oct. 16. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 10:00 a.m. ET and as well as action from eliminations on Sunday.

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