NHRA’s Best Set Sights on Championship As Playoffs Return to zMAX Dragway This Weekend
This might be Justin Ashley’s first time in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ Countdown to the Championship, but the rising Top Fuel star isn’t letting the moment get to him. Ashley, the NHRA’s reigning rookie of the year, advanced to the final round of the first race of the playoffs and will look to keep that momentum rolling at this weekend’s DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
The strong start to his first playoff appearance bumped Ashley from seventh to fourth in points in his 11,000-horsepower Smart Sanitizer/Strutmasters.com Top Fuel dragster. The fall race at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway in 2019 marked Ashely’s first career Top Fuel race, where he advanced to the semifinals. It was a memory Ashley won’t forget and he’ll try to create an even bigger moment at the third race in a rigorous stretch of four straight race weekends.
“I love everything about racing in Charlotte. It is a beautiful facility and since it is a Bruton Smith track you know everything will be first class,” Ashley said. “I remember my first race there in 2019. I just wanted to do my best and we raced to the semifinals and almost made the finals. I know how hard (team owner) Dustin Davis, (crew chief) Mike Green and the crew guys are working right now and it is a complete team effort.”
In Reading, he knocked off points leader and three-time defending world champ Torrence in the semifinals, pulling within 55 points of first. Of course, Torrence been dominant in recent seasons and that includes an incredible stretch of five straight wins at zMAX Dragway. Ashley will also have to take on championship hopefuls like Reading winner Billy Torrence, Antron Brown and Leah Pruett, but the young standout could be peaking at the perfect time. He showed impressive resolve in his first playoff race, beating a trio of championship contenders en route to his runner-up finish in Reading. Repeating that throughout the Countdown to the Championship won’t be easy, but Ashley showed he’s capable.
“Everyone out here racing at an NHRA national event is a tough competitor but when you also add on the fact that every driver I raced on Sunday was in the Countdown that makes me very proud of this Top Fuel team,” Ashley said. “We’ve made it to two finals in the last five races. This is what I have dreamed about and I am so fortunate to be able to chase this Top Fuel championship with this group of amazing teammates.”
In Funny Car, J.R. Todd continues to put together consistent performances, advancing to the semifinals of the opening playoff race. In the hotly-contested class, though, wins will be necessary against a loaded field. Todd, a former world champ, is just 39 points behind leader John Force, with Matt Hagan and Ron Capps also within five and 15 points, respectively, of the 16-time world champ.
That means Funny Car is as tight as ever, but the competitive racing seems to bring out the best in Todd. He loves this time of year and the frequent racing that comes along with it, and the 19-time winner, who was the runner-up to Force at the spring race in Charlotte, is eager to get to work this weekend in his 11,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry.
“You want to go to the later rounds no matter what and not put yourself in a hole. We will go to Charlotte and fight it out,” Todd said. “I think it is going to be a battle all the way down to the end between a pack of cars. I just want to be in that pack when it comes down to Pomona. I like racing as much as possible which is why I like this time of year. It is all about getting momentum, getting on a roll and staying hot.”
Greg Anderson built on his Pro Stock points lead with a his historic 97th career win in Reading, tying Warren Johnson for the most in class history. He’ll try to break the record in Charlotte, but will face stout competition from talents like defending world champ Erica Enders, rookie Dallas Glenn, whose first career win came at the track earlier this year, and Aaron Stanfield.
Steve Johnson won in Charlotte earlier this year at the spring race, and he’s in the points lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle thanks to his victory last weekend. He’ll look to stay there racing against the likes of defending world champ Matt Smith, Reading runner-up Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey.
After nitro qualifying on Friday, stick around to a thrilling jet car exhibition. “The Diamond Jim Racing” jet Funny Car and “Mustang Sally” Jet Funny Car will both make runs on Friday. The Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Association will also make exhibition runs during the weekend.
As always, fans are granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans a chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 1:30 and 5:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19.
To purchase tickets, camping and upgrades to this weekend’s DEWALT NHRA Carolina Nationals, visit www.zmaxdragway.com or call 800-455-FANS (3267). For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
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