Over-heated Ashley Climbs Out of Cockpit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 2 2021

Top Fuel driver Justin Ashley became the victim of the heat in Southern California on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Hot-time, summer in Pomona and Justin Ashley made the smartest starting line decision of his two-year NHRA Top Fuel career Sunday at Auto Club Raceway.

Battling heat exhaustion, Ashley exited his 11,000-horsepower dragster moments before his final-round matchup against Leah Pruett in the COVID-19-delayed/calendar challenged 61st annual NHRA Winternationals. Pruett’s second bye-run of the day produced her first win since 2019, while Ashley retreated to the air-conditioned safety of his team’s hauler.

Track temperatures over 140 degrees and ambient temps in the mid-90s saw Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year, battle conditions bordering on heat stroke after earlier victories over Buddy Hull and world champions Brittany Force of John Force Racing and Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing. 

“These race cars are too powerful to drive if you aren’t 100 percent,” said Ashley. “I was drinking water throughout the day but before the final round I just didn’t feel right. I talked with my crew chief, Mike Green, and my father (Mike Ashley) and they encouraged me to do what was in my personal best interest. There will be more races and I take this as a learning experience. I congratulate Leah and look forward to racing her in a final very soon.”

With fiancé Tony Stewart watching, Pruett capped NHRA’s three-race “Western Swing” through Colorado and California by covering the 1,000-foot distance in 4.021-seconds at 247.61 mph in her dragster fielded by DSR.

“I especially want to thank Tony Stewart and Leah Pruett for their concern and interest in my health,” said Ashley, 25, of Plainview, N.Y. “I have known NHRA as my racing family for a long time but today it really showed how special our sport is and I thank everyone that stopped by, texted or posted well wishes on social media.”

Pruett qualified second to Brittany Force before knocking off Steve Chrisman and Mike Salinas to reach the final and build momentum for the second half of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

“This is about the perseverance of this team,” said Pruett, who moved to fourth in Top Fuel points led by Steve Torrence. “We’ve had a lot of dedication and to do this at our home track, it’s phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with us and we dug deep. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Wally (trophy) and today has just been incredible. We’re going to enjoy this.”

Brown’s first-round victory over Torrence, the three-time/reigning world champion, ended the Texan’s bid to “Sweep the Swing.” Torrence began the annual summertime tour by defeating upset-minded Joey Haas to win the 41st annual Dodge/SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. Torrence followed with a victory over Pruett in the final of last weekend’s 33rd annual NHRA Sonoma (Calif.) Nationals.  It was the first opening-round loss of the season for the 46-time winner and his first since losing to his dad, Billy Torrence, at the Lucas Oil Summernationals at Indianapolis on July 19, 2020.

Beating Brown never has been easy for Torrence, who is 362-175 against every other driver in Top Fuel. But against Brown, another three-time world champion, Torrence is only 17-33. Torrence wins almost 68 percent of the time against everyone but Brown, now second in the standings by 313 points in his Matco Tools Toyota dragster.

“We just got a little behind in qualifying,” said Torrence, who started fourth in his family-owned Capco Contractors dragster. “We didn’t get down the track on the first two (qualifying) runs and then we had to be a little conservative just to move up in the field and get lane-choice. But give all the credit to Antron and his guys. They figured it out and made a good solid run.”

Ron Capps (Funny Car), Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their respective categories at the 10th race of the season.

Capps, who qualified on-pole in a short, 13-car ladder, posted his first win of the year by covering the 1,000-foot distance in 4.151-seconds at 297.75 mph against J.R. Todd. Capps’ 67th career win also gave him a five-point lead (734-729) over Bob Tasca III. The 2016 NHRA world champ, Capps knocked off Bobby Bode, Tasca and nemesis John Force to reach the final. Capps quickly tracked down Todd and celebrated a meaningful win at his home track.

“I was hoping a win was coming,” said Capps, driver the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat fielded by DSR. “This team, time and time again, they’ve given me one of the coolest cars to drive and this (weekend) was one of the most extreme conditions we’ve ever had. To do it at Pomona in the summer, with all my friends and family here, I can’t even tell you how amazing it is. We’re going to have a blast (celebrating).”

Todd reached his third final this season and 38th in his career via round-wins against Jeff Diehl, Robert Hight and Jim Campbell.

“We didn’t run spectacular, but we ran good enough to get to the final,” said Todd, driver of the DHL Toyota Camry fielded by Kalitta Motorsports. “We had a problem dropping cylinders today and that’s what cost us in the final. I’m just glad to get there. The ‘Western Swing’ was a struggle until we got to Pomona and then the track was real tricky this weekend. So hats off to Todd Smith, Jon Oberhofer and all of the DHL Toyota guys who made it happen today. I just wish we could have gotten a win to finish off the Swing, but all in all, it was a good points day.”

Stanfield stayed hot in Pro Stock, scoring his second straight win and third in four races by knocking off point-leader Greg Anderson in the final with a quarter-mile pass in 6.652-seconds at 207.69 mph in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro SS. It marked the second time in this recent stretch that Stanfield trailered the four-time world champ in a final, also denying Anderson the chance to post his 97th career win and tie Warren Johnson for the most in Pro Stock history. 

Stanfield beat Kenny Delco, Matt Hartford and Elite Motorsports teammate/reigning world champ Erica Enders to reach the final. Stanfield never trailed against Anderson, picking up his fourth career win and inching closer to Anderson’s point lead.

“I’ve got some great guys working on my hot rod and if I can stay doing my job behind the wheel, I think we’ve got a great shot (to compete for a championship),” said Stanfield, 26. “To win back-to-back races, I couldn’t have dreamed of this. It’s cool to race against Greg and that milestone he’s trying to accomplish, but I’m glad we got him stopped today. I would imagine that one day he’s going to get it, but we want to make it as hard as possible. The KB Racing-Elite rivalry is great. They’re both very competitive teams and it’s cool to be in the middle of it and have the chance to win.”

Anderson advanced to his fifth final round this season and 163rd in his career with victories against Chris McGaha and KB Racing teammate Kyle Koretsky. He’ll look to tie Johnson’s mark for all-time wins in Pro Stock at the Menards NHRA Nationals at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan., Aug. 13-15.

Anderson took consolation in the fact he has clinched a spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“I’ve got a great car, but I need to win more, no question about that,” said Anderson, driver of a Chevy Camaro SS. “I’ve got an opportunity to win at every race I go to, and that’s something you don’t get every year. I expect I’ll have that the rest of the year but I still have to make it pay off _ I have to get the job done on Sunday. Even though I’ve had these No. 1 qualifiers, we’re talking about a half-a-hundredth (of a second) or a few thousandths; it’s not a huge gap. Anyone can win, and it all comes down to that starting line and how good a job the guys do with the car on Sunday.”

Smith continued to stay a step ahead of everyone in Pro Stock Motorcycle, notching his fourth win this season aboard his /Matt Smith Racing EBR after a quarter-mile pass of 6.828-seconds at 199.52 mph against Angelle Sampey. Smith was the No. 1 qualifier by a wide margin and rolled through the field Sunday, earning round wins against his wife, Angie, and teammate Scotty Pollacheck before cruising to the win against Sampey.

Smith not only maintained his healthy lead in the point standings but also picked up his second win in the Western Swing.

“It was hot out there and that was the biggest thing, just fighting the track with it being this hot,” said Smith, who now has 30 career wins. “We got it done, qualified No. 1 and were almost low every round. I knew what we had to do in the final and we laid down a great run. I can’t say enough about the people who help us. We’ve got a great team.”

Sampey advanced to her first final round of the season and 75th in her championship career by taking out Jim Underdahl, Joey Gladstone and Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec. A three-time PSM world champ, Sampey moved to fourth in points aboard her Suzuki.

Final results from the 61st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. The race was the 10th of 20 in the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series: 

Top Fuel _ Leah Pruett, 4.021-seconds, 247.61 mph def. Justin Ashley, DNS (heat exhaustion). 

Funny Car_ Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.151, 297.75 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.289, 286.56. 

Pro Stock _ Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.652, 207.69 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.660, 207.08. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Matt Smith, EBR, 6.828, 199.52 def. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.911, 173.96.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Shawn Cowie, 5.325, 274.39 def. Joey Severance, 5.726, 195.96. 

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Terry Ruckman, Chevy Camaro, 5.724, 262.23 def. Brian Hough, Camaro, 5.712, 260.41.

Competition Eliminator _ Tibor Kadar, Chevy Cobalt, 8.174, 165.97 def. Joe Mozeris, Dragster, 7.098, 183.37. 

Super Stock _ Jimmy DeFrank, Chevy Cobalt, 9.006, 151.05 def. Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 9.747, 134.71.

Stock Eliminator _ Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 10.249, 126.99 def. Brian McClanahan, Camaro, 9.900, 131.01.

Super Comp _ Nick Cobb, Dragster, 8.906, 172.83 def. Ryan Hansen, Dragster, 8.894, 173.14.

Super Gas _ Mike Wiblishouser, Chevy Corvette, 10.025, 149.46 def. Larry Bradshaw, Corvette, 9.902, 164.55. 

Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Richard Okerman, Chevy Beretta, 7.332, 166.66 def. Phil Miller, Chevy S-10, 7.662, 153.60. 

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Paul Nero, Dragster, 7.141, 187.00 def. Mike Mendenhall, Dragster, 6.407, 216.24.

Final round-by-round results from the 61st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals:


ROUND ONE _ Clay Millican, 3.843, 305.49 def. Doug Kalitta, 4.287, 232.19; Shawn Langdon, 3.923, 285.77 def. Jim Maroney, 5.503, 124.81; Antron Brown, 3.834, 318.47 def. Steve Torrence, 4.472, 197.10; Leah Pruett, 3.906, 311.77 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.312, 210.87; Mike Salinas, 3.832, 319.29 def. Brandon Welch, 5.620, 119.00; Brittany Force, 3.843, 322.88 was unopposed; Justin Ashley, 3.907, 314.02 def. Buddy Hull, 8.089, 67.99; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Ashley, 3.912, 311.49 def. Force, 4.013, 308.99; Pruett, 3.931, 310.27 was unopposed; Brown, 4.127, 254.62 def. Langdon, 4.189, 244.83; Salinas, 3.874, 313.37 def. Millican, 3.975, 264.34;

SEMIFINALS _ Ashley, 3.944, 314.02 def. Brown, 4.024, 269.40; Pruett, 3.927, 311.05 def. Salinas, 4.360, 194.80;

FINAL _ Pruett, 4.021, 247.61 def. Ashley, DNS (heat exhaustion). 


ROUND ONE _ John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.054, 313.66 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.112, 308.99; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.223, 289.57 def. Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 4.342, 248.25; Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.251, 245.90 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 10.763, 64.00; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.020, 309.77 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.180, 263.92; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 7.972, 77.94 def. Jason Rupert, Mustang, Broke/No Show; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.103, 303.23 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.224, 147.37; J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.148, 301.07 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.510, 229.78; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.306, 282.95 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 5.475, 137.61; 

QUARTERFINALS _Todd, 4.192, 305.98 def. Hight, 4.192, 302.28; Force, 4.353, 260.46 def. Pedregon, 4.361, 218.37; Capps, 4.151, 296.50 def. Tasca III, 4.278, 288.58; Campbell, 4.314, 271.95 def. DeJoria, 4.797, 175.87; 

SEMIFINALS _ Todd, 4.297, 275.34 def. Campbell, 4.531, 206.64; Capps, 4.158, 300.06 def. Force, 4.659, 195.19; 

FINAL _ Capps, 4.151, 297.75 def. Todd, 4.289, 286.56. 


ROUND ONE _Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.652, 207.88 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.710, 206.61; Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.642, 207.46 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 9.635, 96.85; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.637, 205.79 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.702, 206.92; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.642, 206.73 def. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.661, 205.72; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.655, 206.80 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.707, 205.01; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.606, 206.95 was unopposed; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.620, 206.39 def. Rob Tucker, Dart, 6.776, 203.09; Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.618, 205.72 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.690, 206.86; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Stanfield, 6.673, 205.29 def. Hartford, 6.738, 204.32; Enders, 6.673, 206.39 def. Strong, 6.679, 206.89; Koretsky, 6.665, 207.43 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.647, 205.79; Anderson, 6.648, 207.05 def. C. McGaha, 6.704, 207.11; 

SEMIFINALS _ Stanfield, 6.684, 204.76 def. Enders, 6.686, 206.04; Anderson, 6.649, 206.54 def. Koretsky, 6.702, 207.50; 

FINAL _ Stanfield, 6.652, 207.69 def. Anderson, 6.660, 207.08. 


ROUND ONE _ Angie Smith, EBR, 6.917, 196.70 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.020, 177.30; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.937, 196.53 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.032, 192.11; Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.822, 198.35 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, Broke/No Show; Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.882, 198.82 def. Cory Reed, Suzuki, 7.126, 178.54; Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.031, 193.40 def. Andrew Hines, Buell, 19.190, 38.82; Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.884, 199.94 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.913, 195.62; Matt Smith, 6.901, EBR, 173.81 was unopposed; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.843, 197.31 def. Ryan Oehler, 7.017, 194.77; 

QUARTERFINALS _ M. Smith, 6.838, 199.82 def. A. Smith, 6.929, 196.76; Krawiec, 6.945, 197.62 def. Camarena, 7.091, 190.24; Sampey, 6.843, 197.10 def. Gladstone, 7.044, 196.53; Pollacheck, 6.891, 197.97 def. Savoie, 6.961, 195.65; 

SEMIFINALS _ Sampey, 6.878, 195.42 def. Krawiec, 6.933, 197.91; M. Smith, 6.919, 197.31 def. Pollacheck, 6.965, 197.62; 

FINAL _ M. Smith, 6.828, 199.52 def. Sampey, 6.911, 173.96.

Point standings (top-10) following the 61st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals: 

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 1,014; 2. Antron Brown, 661; 3. Brittany Force, 605; 4. Leah Pruett, 499; 5. Shawn Langdon, 494; 6. Mike Salinas, 473; 7. Doug Kalitta, 454; 8. Billy Torrence, 448; 9. Justin Ashley, 406; 10. Clay Millican, 383.

Funny Car _1. Ron Capps, 734; 2. Bob Tasca III, 729; 3. John Force, 698; 4. Robert Hight, 697; 5. Matt Hagan, 689; 6. J.R. Todd, 677; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 632; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 552; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 537; 10. Blake Alexander, 343.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 775; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 629; 3. Erica Enders, 608; 4. Matt Hartford, 546; 5. Dallas Glenn, 524; 6. Mason McGaha, 518; 7. Deric Kramer, 487; 8. Kyle Koretsky, 481; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., 468; 10. Chris McGaha, 337.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, 813; 2. Steve Johnson, 551; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, 491; 4. Angelle Sampey, 443; 5. Ryan Oehler, 441; 6. Angie Smith, 429; 7. Karen Stoffer, 428; 8. Eddie Krawiec, 409; 9. Joey Gladstone, 389; 10. Andrew Hines, 381.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 2 2021
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