NHRA Top Fuel’s Justin Ashley Looking For More Early Season Success At Winternationals
Story By: NHRA – POMONA, CA – A quick start paid dividends last year for Justin Ashley, who won the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals to open the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Series season and used that momentum to contend for his first Top Fuel world championship.
With an early-season win already under his belt in his 11,000-horsepower Phillips Connect Toyota dragster powered by National Debt Relief, Ashley is after a second straight win at storied In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip at this weekend’s 63rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.
Ashley won on Sunday in Phoenix, bouncing back from a first-round loss in Gainesville to open the season. With sky-high expectations, it was another important step forward for Ashley, who saw first-hand the benefits of early-season success last season. A second straight victory at the historic Winternationals would add to what he’s already built this year and Ashley is thrilled to compete for another win just days after winning in Phoenix.
“It’s ironic because last year we won the first race (Winternationals) and then lost in the first round at the Arizona Nationals,” Ashley said. “This time was the opposite. We lost in the first round of the first race (Gatornationals) and came back and won the Arizona Nationals. (But) it sets the tone for the year.
“You know you got to start strong, but you also got to finish strong especially with the Countdown format. But just growing and winning definitely helps us to collect some momentum. Every point matters, whether it’s early in the year or late in the year so we’re able to collect those points early on I think is really significant. I’m excited to have this momentum going into Pomona, which is one of my favorite races.”
Ashley (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) all won last year in Pomona and this year’s race will again be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 2. The first trip to In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip of the year is also the third of 21 races during the 2023 NHRA season, with Sunday’s win vaulting Ashley to fourth in points in a loaded field.
Ashley finished fourth a year ago, but also led the points at two different times, including for four straight races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The team continues to take positive steps forward, even while competing against a loaded lineup that includes reigning world champ Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, Gainesville winner Mike Salinas, Phoenix runner-up Shawn Langdon, Antron Brown, Leah Pruett and Tony Schumacher.
Ashley will also get the chance to compete in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge for the first time, as the unique challenge debuted in Phoenix, offering competitive racing during Saturday qualifying, along with a bonus purse and bonus points for the playoffs. It features a rematch of the semifinal participants from the previous race, meaning Ashley will take on Torrence in a must-see matchup in Pomona and Langdon will face off with Pruett. The winners will meet to close out qualifying, offering somebody a chance to win twice in one weekend at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.
“It’s exciting and it’s another opportunity to go out there and compete like it’s race day,” Ashley said. “I’m really proud and really excited to have the opportunity to double up there. It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere and we’re just going to keep working hard. It’s obviously a team effort and that’s what it takes to be able to win against all these champions in the class.”
In Funny Car, Hight scored his fifth career win at Pomona last season en route to one of the most successful seasons in his career. Hight claimed eight victories in 2022, finishing second in points to Ron Capps, who won his second straight world title. Both will be chasing Pomona glory, as will Gainesville winner Matt Hagan, John Force, who has 16 wins at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, J.R. Todd, Bob Tasca III, Alexis DeJoria and Tim Wilkerson. Capps will race DeJoria in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, with DeJoria winning the Challenge on Saturday in Phoenix. Hight will take on Green in a semifinal rematch as well.
Enders won the Winternationals for the first time in 2022, as the five-time Pro Stock world champ also laid claim to a victory at the 900th race in class history. It kicked off a dominant season that included 10 wins and a world title and she’ll try to match that in a loaded category that also features Greg Anderson, who has 14 wins at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, Dallas Glenn, Gainesville winner Troy Coughlin Jr., Kyle Koretsky and Aaron Stanfield. Phoenix winner Camrie Caruso will take on Matt Hartford in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, while the other matchup includes Bo Butner and Koretsky.
The Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, featuring some of the top racers in the country. The Legends Nitro Funny Cars will be in action during the weekend as well as part of their 2023 tour, while the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department will hold a special racing exhibition. Following nitro qualifying on Friday and Saturday, the “Walking Tall” P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander driven by “NitroMike” Kunz will put on a show for the fans, as will the cackle fest taking place in the Hot Rod Junction throughout the weekend.
An autograph session will take place on Saturday at the Toyota Display with Toyota-sponsored drivers, along with a special session featuring participants in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge.
Fans will also be invited all weekend long to the Nitro Alley Stage, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into the nitro pits. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more.
Race fans at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip 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 event winners of the race.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Pomona. This 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.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 3 p.m. PT on Friday, March 31, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 1 at 12 and 3 p.m. The finals of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge take place at the end of final qualifying in each category. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. PT on Sunday, April 2. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 7:00 p.m. ET. on Saturday and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, leading into eliminations at 7 p.m. ET.