Pep Boys NHRA Nationals
Event 16 of 21
Countdown Event 1 of 6
Maple Grove Raceway
Sept. 15 - 17, 2023
On-track activities at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals were suspended after the second round of eliminations due to persistent rain.
Prior to canceling the remainder of the day’s elimination rounds, No. 9 qualifier Tony Schumacher and the JCM Racing SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team defeated Austin Prock and Justin Ashley to advance to the semifinals. Eliminations will resume at 10:00 a.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 18 at Maple Grove Raceway with Schumacher set to square off against No. 4 qualifier Steve Torrence.
Top Fuel and Funny Car championship point standings will be updated following the conclusion of Monday's elimination rounds.
Justin Ashley Races to Quarterfinals at Reading Nationals
READING, Pa. (September 17, 2023) – Entering the 2023 NHRA Countdown as the No. 1 seed, Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team ran to the No. 1 qualifier position at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. On Friday night, Ashley posted the quickest time of two days of qualifying, a solid 3.687 second pass and went into race day with a first round match up against No. 16 qualifier Scott Farley. Ashley picked up three qualifying bonus points and had lane choice over Farley.
The NHRA moved the start time for the race up to 9:30 a.m. ET and Ashley’s team was ready to go when they pulled up to the water box. The Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team fired up and began their pre-race routine, but Farley’s team was unable to fire their 11,000-horsepowered Top Ful dragster. Ashley was awarded a competition bye run. The six-time winner this season launched and powered down the left lane before he hazed the tires and coasted across the finish line for the win light with a 6.496 second pass at 91.75 mph.
The win propelled Ashley to a race with the eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher. This season, Ashley was 3-0 in his head-to-head races against Schumacher, but he gave up lane choice in the second round. When the dragsters launched, it was Schumacher getting off the line first, but Ashley was right beside him flying down the track. Unfortunately, the starting line deficit was too much to overcome and Ashley’s quicker 3.707 second run wasn’t enough to get to the stripe first. At the top end Ashley was complimentary of his opponent but also focused on the overall goals for the team.
“That team deserved to win and Tony did a great job, I'm really happy for them,” said Ashley, who leads the category in reaction time average. “They've been struggling all year, but this is a part of racing. It’s disappointing but this sport has so many ups and downs. We get that and we understand that it's a six-race countdown. There's plenty of time to win this championship. I apologized to my team, I let us down there but that's okay. We'll be fine. This Phillips Connect team has been doing such an outstanding job so we’ll put these Mac Tools back to work, and we'll see everyone in Charlotte.”
Last season Ashley raced his way into the point lead during the Countdown but did not walk away with the championship, ultimately finishing fourth for the second season in a row. The fourth-year driver and team owner is leaning on that experience to move past this race.
“Experience helps both on and off the racetrack,” said Ashley. “We will make sure that we're set with all our parts and pieces. Our approach is not going to change. We're gonna continue to do the same thing week in and week out just because we are in the countdown doesn't mean we're hyper-focused or we are changing anything that we're doing. We're just going to stay within our approach and stay within ourselves. The points will take care of themselves.”
Rain halted eliminations one pair into the Top Fuel semifinals with Doug Kalitta advancing to the final round and Steve Torrence versus Tony Schumacher still left to race. As of tonight, with five races left in the Countdown, Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota team are sitting No. 1 in the point standings. The eventual outcome of this race could drop the six-time 2023 winner to No. 2. They will be back on track in five days at the Betway Nationals from zMax Dragway, September 22-24.
Qualified: No. 1 (3.687 E.T. at 335.57 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 6.496 E.T. at 91.75 MPH defeated Scott Farley (Broke, No Time)
E2: 3.707 E.T. at 333.41 MPH defeated by Tony Schumacher 3.716 E.T. at 329.26 MPH
Tim Wilkerson Advances to Quarterfinals at First Race of 2023 NHRA Countdown
Tim Wilkerson returned to the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals as the Funny Car event runner-up after having advanced to the final round in 2022. He was seeking a fourth Maple Grove Raceway final-round outing on Sunday during the first event of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
Making his 15th Countdown appearance, the driver/tuner of the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang, began the playoffs from the No. 8 seed. Wilkerson’s best prior Countdown finish was a second-place effort in 2008, and with two national event wins in three final-round appearances so far in 2023, Wilkerson looks prime for a strong Countdown showing as he closes out his first season as a member of the JCM Racing team.
Wilkerson began race day in Reading, Pa. as the No. 4 qualifier, which he earned on the strength of his 3.881-second at 329.91 MPH pass from the fourth round of qualifying. The run held up to be the third-quickest of the round, earning the Maynard Wilkerson Racing team one bonus point.
Armed with the advantage of lane choice, Wilkerson drew No. 13 qualifier Alex Laughlin in round one on Sunday morning. He launched hard in his 11,000-horsepower machine and kept the SCAG/LRS Ford hitting on all eight cylinders to clock a 3.900-second pass for the win against his opponent’s 4.303-second effort. Round two featured a Wilkerson-family intramural skirmish with the 24-time race winner lining up opposite Chad Green and his crew chief, Daniel Wilkerson. It was the fifth time the father/son duo raced each other in eliminations in 2023, with the elder Wilkerson carrying a three-to-one round-win lead over his son. In a weird turn of events, Wilkerson did his burnout before NHRA officials instructed both he and Green to shut their machines off due to rain. After a brief delay, the skies cleared and the opponents were instructed to fire up their Funny Cars. Green completed his burnout and then Wilkerson started his car back up. The two cars pulled up to the beams but Wilkerson’s hopes for a fourth Pep Boys NHRA Nationals final round appearance went up in smoke as soon as he stood on the throttle while Green made a full pull in the opposite lane for the win.
“We had a good car this weekend but just got kind of snakebit there on the shutoff and restart deal,” explained Wilkerson of how having to shut off after the burnout affected his run. “Next time, I’ll go to the back of the pack and re-look at everything and take assessment of what I’m doing right and wrong. I let it cool off a little bit and I really thought it would be fine. We’ve been in that same situation before where we opted to run it right away instead of going to the back of the pack, and the car went right down the track, so, I think it just sat too long today. But, we’ll see how it goes and go onto the next race and try again.”
The No. 8 ranked SCAG/LRS Ford Funny Car team won’t have to wait long for redemption as the NHRA continues onto Concord, N.C. next weekend, Sept. 22 – 24, for the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway where Wilkerson returns as a two-time facility event champion.
Qualified: No. 4 (3.881 E.T. at 329.91 MPH)
Elimination Round Results:
E1: 3.900 E.T. at 329.67 MPH defeated Alex Laughlin 4.303 E.T. at 294.88 MPH
E2: 12.626 E.T. at 79.60 MPH defeated by Chad Green 4.005 E.T. at 277.94 MPH