NHRA U.S. Nationals
Event 15 of 21
Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park
Sept. 1 - 4, 2023
Justin Ashley Races to Semifinals at U.S. Nationals
INDIANAPOLIS (September 4, 2023) – Justin Ashley, the Top Fuel points leader came to the 69th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals with two goals in mind. The 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year and championship contender wanted to win the race and hold onto the Top Fuel point lead heading into the Countdown as the No. 1 seed. Through three days of qualifying, Ashley and his Mike Green and Tommy DeLago tuned 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster made four quality runs and picked up another Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win and secured the No. 3 qualifier position.
“Obviously we wanted to win this race,” said Ashley, a six-time winner in 2023. “We wanted to win this race bad, but we also have a healthy understanding of the regular season is over. We accomplished our goal. We're going into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and we feel good about that.”
In the first round the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team faced veteran Doug Foley. True to form, Ashley was first off the starting line and he never trailed in the race. It was a close race and Foley made his quickest and fastest run of the weekend in a losing effort. Ashley’s winning time of 3.719 seconds at 333.41 MPH was enough to advance him to the second round against Leah Pruett.
In the quarterfinals, Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team were looking to balance his season record at 2-2 with a win. Once again Ashley had a strong reaction time getting off the line at the same time against Pruett with each driver dropping a .040 light. Pruett smoked the tires immediately as Ashley was pulling away on a smooth run. His winning time of 3.753 seconds was quick enough to give him lane choice in the semifinals over Toyota teammate Antron Brown.
It was an epic battle between two championship contenders. Ashley was first off the line and was about to start pulling away when his Goodyear slicks overpowered the track. Brown was a little further down track when his tires lost traction. Ashley gave his dragster a quick pedal to see if he could get re-engaged with the track, but he was unable to reel in Brown, who eventually went on to win the race. Ashley had his best reaction time of the day, a stellar .035 light.
“It's very difficult to win the U.S. Nationals and it's very difficult to win any race,” said Ashley. “The best and the baddest cars and teams come out to race, the U.S. Nationals and they bring their A game, not only because of how big the race is, but also because of where it's situated in the year.
“There are no easy draws and when we get into this Countdown, it doesn't matter whether you're in the No. 1 seed or the 12 or 13 seed, once you're in you're in and anything can happen,” said Ashley. “It's like March Madness. Once you're in the dance. Anything can happen to brackets and they get busted all the time. There are no easy draws. Teams are really running well right now. Everyone's hitting their groove. So yeah, I mean, we're really happy that we finished number one, it's gonna give us the best advantage that we could possibly ask for. However, it's going to be tough out there. It's going to be a grind. It's going to be an absolute fight.”
As the post season starts in two weeks Ashley has confidence in his Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team. Last year, Ashley was dominant through the first four races. This year, the rising star in NHRA is looking to battle for the full six races.
“I truly believe in my heart that we have the best team out here, led by Mike Green and Tommy DeLago. But our entire Phillips Connect team does such a great job week in and week out. You'll get the eight laps that we made this weekend and six of them went down the racetrack. We went down the racetrack pretty much every time in the heat. It's just a testament to the group that we have. I have the utmost confidence in this group and we didn't win six races by accident. We didn't win six Mission Food Challenges by accident, it’s because of the group that we have. The work that they continue to put in is awesome.”
The six race playoffs will start at Maple Grove Raceway, September 15-17 for the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals.
Qualified: No. 3 (3.714 E.T. at 334.73 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.719 E.T. at 333.41 MPH defeated Doug Foley 3.763 E.T. at 317.87 MPH
E2: 3.753 E.T. at 332.34 MPH defeated Leah Pruett 7.617 E.T. at 92.86 MPH
E3: 6.569 E.T. at 141.71 MPH defeated by Antron Brown 4.924 E.T. at 165.44 MPH
Tony Schumacher on Bad Side of Good Drag Race at U.S. Nationals
Despite making steady progress all weekend, Tony Schumacher found himself on the bad side of a good drag race on Monday morning at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, the final event of NHRA’s regular season. Aboard the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster, Schumacher secured a spot in the 16-car field by clocking three solid runs during qualifying with his best run, a 3.784 E.T. at 326.79 MPH, slotting him in the No. 12 seed out of 19 cars vying to get into the show.
The 10-time U.S. Nationals event champion drew No. 5 qualifier Mike Salinas as his first-round opponent on race day. Schumacher moved first to claim the holeshot advantage but his opponent had pulled ahead by the time they reached the 330-foot marker. The SCAG machine started creeping up on Salinas and had him almost reeled in by the time they approached the 1,000-foot beams, but Salinas powered across the finish line first to score the narrow victory, which saw Schumacher come up short by just five-thousandths of a second.
“That was a heartbreaker because five-thousandths of a second can win it so many different ways,” said the winningest Camping World Series driver in Indianapolis Raceway Park history. “We were off. We were trying to run a 72. It was nice early, but it was slow, and then (my car) went into pause mode. I could feel it, I could hear him next to me. It was a hell of a race but we’ve got to qualify much better so we’re not running the car in the No. 5 spot that’s going to make a decent run down the track. The guys have put so much effort in, and it’s about time we turn the tables. I think that one was extra painful just because Indy has been so good to me and we had a car that was capable of advancing. One foot in any direction and we could’ve won that round. These first-round losses are killing us but we’ll get through it. We’ll get to Reading (Pa.) and I expect we’ll do well because we’re getting better every day.”
The six-race Countdown to the Championship commences with the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., Sept 15 – 17 where Schumacher will start from the No. 12 seed as he begins his battle for a ninth Top Fuel world championship.
Qualified: No. 12 (3.784 E.T. at 326.79 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.770 E.T. at 326.00 MPH defeated by Mike Salinas 3.757 E.T. at 308.92 MPH
Tim Wilkerson Advances to Second Round at NHRA U.S. Nationals
Two-time NHRA U.S. Nationals winner Tim Wilkerson battled hard for a late-round finish at the prestigious Indy race, but his SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang Funny Car ran into traction issues in the second round of eliminations on Monday. On the hot Indianapolis Raceway Park surface, Wilkerson raced side-by-side with Robert Hight before tire smoke ended the race.
Wilkerson had to fight his way down the track in the first two qualifying sessions before throwing down a 3.945-second pass in the third session on Saturday. That run gave Wilkerson two bonus points for making the third-quickest pass of the session. The Illinois driver ended up No. 8 by the time all five qualifying sessions were completed on Sunday.
Wilkerson went into Monday’ eliminations with plenty of Indy history on his side. The Maynard Wilkerson Racing driver reached his first Funny Car final round at Indy in 1997, while his most recent Indy final round in 2021 ended with the win. With 30 round wins at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Wilkerson was ranked third at the facility in the Funny Car round-wins category going into his first-round match with Chad Green.
It was a father-son battle between Wilkerson and son Daniel Wilkerson, who is Green’s crew chief. Green grabbed a holeshot advantage, but Wilkerson’s 3.913-second pass was enough to get around Green and his 3.989 E.T. The round-win tied Wilkerson and Green in head-to-head competition at four wins each. In the second round, Wilkerson tried to power past Robert Hight, but he got out of the groove and lost traction near the 660-foot cone.
“In the first round, we pretty much did what I wanted to do there – just make a nice run and go down the track,” Wilkerson said. “The track didn't change a whole lot from first to second round. Our SCAG Mustang, when it hit the tire, it washed hard and pulled me out of the groove to the left. When I drug it back, it came loose.”
The U.S. Nationals marked the end of the NHRA Camping World Series regular season. Wilkerson will take advantage of a brief break in the schedule to prepare for the six-race Countdown to the Championship where he will start from the eighth seed.
“We're going to take the car home and scale it and make sure everything is good to go there and it isn’t crooked or bent or not scaled properly, but it's working real well,” Wilkerson said. “Hopefully we can do what we did first round the next few weekends. We get the points reset and we’ll see if we can keep them on their tails.”
The first race of the Countdown portion of the season is the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals, Sept. 15-17, at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
Qualified: No. 8 (3.945 E.T. at 328.38 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.913 E.T. at 329.58 MPH defeated Chad Green 3.989 E.T. at 328.94 MPH
E2: 5.032 E.T. at 152.37 MPH defeated by Robert Hight 3.952 E.T. at 318.99 MPH