Ashley’s Star Rises Higher With Win At WinterNats

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 22 2022

Justin Ashley launches his dragster during Sunday’s NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Native New Yorker Justin Ashley backed-up his “rising Top Fuel star” billing Sunday with a resume-building victory during the season-opening 62nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.

NHRA’s 2020 Rookie of the Year, Ashley’s ladder run at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona included consecutive round victories against multiple world champions and Toyota Gazoo Racing North America teammates Antron Brown and Steve Torrence before capping the day with a winning pass against 2019 ROY Austin Prock in the final.

“We knew coming into the day the Top Fuel field was going to be tough,” said Ashley, a 27-year-old native of Plainview, N.Y. “You saw races separated by such little margins. We really had no layups at all and you’re never really going to have any layups. To be able to beat guys like Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, the four-time champ, and Austin Prock, who’s doing a great job, it really solidified what we came out here and wanted to do.

“We spent the offseason trying to work on power, pick up and get to where we wanted to and I feel like you could really see that.”

Meanwhile, multiple world champs Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) posted victories in the first of 22 races on the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule.

Ashley prevailed over Prock in the final with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.694-seconds at 314.53 mph, as Prock ran 3.713 at 333.00. Ashley earned his third career victory and first at the famed Southern California facility that is home to NHRA. After knocking off Jim Maroney, Ashley trailered three-time world champion Brown and four-time/reigning champ Torrence to reach the Wintenats final for a second consecutive season.

“We wanted to focus on our 60-foot times and our early numbers,” said Ashley, driver of the Toyota dragster fielded by Davis Motorsports. “Our (test) numbers in Phoenix were really good and it was up to us to make sure it translated to Pomona and the rest of the year. We’re off to a good start. Those runs from testing were integral to our success, and this dragster was really like a Bracket car all day.

“From a driver’s perspective, when you have good early numbers and make runs like we did that gives me as a driver a lot of confidence. The better the car is running, of course you feel more pressure to perform as the driver. I always put pressure on myself to perform for my team. Our Davis Motorsports team and (crew chief) Mike Green do such an outstanding job. It’s up to me to be the best driver I can be.”

To that end, Ashley was a model of consistency down the recently resurfaced Auto Club tarmac. His winning elapsed times on race day were 3.699-seconds, 3.692, 3.702 and 3.694, respectively.

“Having Phillips Connect onboard along with Toyota was a big help this weekend and we want to keep proving ourselves to all our sponsors,” Ashley said.

Ashley’s winning, 3.692-second elapsed time against Brown _ his technical alliance partner with Toyota _ was quickest run of the session and gave him lane choice in the semifinals over Torrence. The win also evened Ashley’s career record against Brown at 3-3.

Ashley was 1-4 against Torrence in semifinal round meetings over his career. But Ashley got the jump on the starting line and never trailed Sunday. He hit the finish line in 3.702-seconds at 329.42 mph vs. Torrence’s 3.731-second run at 326.00 mph.

The Top Fuel final showcased the future of the class, with Prock returning to fulltime status at John Force Racing after a near two-year absence. Prock’s 0.049-second reaction time was nearly matched by Ashley’s 0.050. Both cars covered the distance with all eight-cylinders lit, with Ashley taking the win at 3.694-seconds to Prock’s 3.713.

Earlier, Prock advanced to the final with wins against Clay Millican, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher in his return to fulltime racing, and JFR teammate and No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force, the 2017 world champion.

“Great start to the year,” said Prock, the son of longtime JFR tuner Jimmy Prock. “This Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist team got put together about three-four weeks ago and I thought we did an excellent job this weekend. No mistakes and tuners were learning every run and improving the car.

“It’s going to be a long, fun year and I’m really looking forward to it. Obviously, we wanted to get the win, especially with my dad winning (tuning Robert Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS in Funny Car). It would have been awfully cool to have a family double-up. I’m just happy to be back. This is my dream to drive this race car, and to be back and doing what I love again, it’s a lot of fun.”

The schedule will resume with the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., Feb. 25-27.

The Funny Car final between Robert Hight and Ron Capps featured a side-by-side matchup of longtime stars, with Hight earning the win via a 1,000-foot pass in 3.861-seconds at 329.58 mph. Capps, the two-time/reigning world champ in his first national event as team-owner/driver, ran 3.882 at 333.82.

Hight secured his fifth Winternats win and 54th in his career to set a positive tone for the 2022 season after finishing a disappointing eighth in class last season. A three-time world champion, Hight Chevrolet Camaro SS advanced to the final with round wins against Jason Rupert, Tony Jurado and three-time world champ Matt Hagan in his debut for Tony Stewart Racing. Hight ran 3.861-seconds in both the semifinals and finals.

I knew it was going to be a great race against Ron Capps,” said Hight, the 52-year-old president of John Force Racing and resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “There are a lot of really great Funny Cars that are doing the same thing and we just happened to get the win today. It’s going to be a battle. Look at our qualifying run (Saturday) night. Capps and I were separated by 0.004 of a second for No. 1 and No. 2. So you know going in the final it’s going to be a battle and it’s going to be a great run and it was 0.002 at the stripe. It doesn’t get any closer than that. That’s unbelievable Funny Car racing.

“You have to do your job and everybody on the Auto Club team did their job this weekend. We definitely have more consistency than we had last year. I’m excited about that and with (crew chiefs) Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham they’ll just build on that and I can only see it getting better.”

Capps, the No. 1 qualifier in his Dodge Charger, knocked off 16-time world champ John Force, 2018 world champ J.R. Todd of Kalitta Motorsports and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon to advance to the final round for the 132nd time in his standout career.

“What a weekend,” said Capps, who qualified No. 1 in the debut of Ron Capps Motorsports. “I mean, obviously, you want to come out swinging right out of the gate, and you’ve got to set these small goals that we talk about. First, you’ve got to qualify well and put yourself in a position where you have lane choice, and we did that. Obviously, we would have liked to win but you couldn’t script it much better.”

Pro Stock’s landmark 900th race saw Erica Enders earn her 34th career win. Enders covered the quarter-mile in 6.559-seconds at 210.31 mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS to knock off teammate Aaron Stanfield.

“I came in here with the mindset that there’s no more ‘nice Erica.’ Not to be said in a negative connotation, but I’m quite frankly sick of getting my butt stomped,” said Enders, a 38-year-old native of Houston, Texas.

Enders, who won her world titles in 2014-15 and 2019-20, finished 107 points/five-plus rounds behind Greg Anderson of KB Racing last season. Her victory over Anderson in the semifinals ended the five-time/reigning world champ’s bid for his 100th career victory.

“This 900th is pretty dang cool. We were able to get the 150th for the women and this is pretty cool,” Enders said. “For Pro Stock, for all the hard work KB (Racing) and Elite (Motorsports) have put in to making this class what it is today _ with 20-plus competitors _ we couldn’t be more proud.”

Erica was presented a special trophy along with the traditional Wally in recognition of the 900th race in the popular Factory Hot Rod class. En route, Enders knocked off Cristian Cuadra, reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn and longtime rival Anderson.

“Race day was awesome. It was really challenging, not a walk-through by any means, (and) some interesting stuff happened out there today,” said Enders, who qualified on-pole en route to her first Winternats win. “We were able to park the Melling Performance hot rod in the Winner’s Circle. To be able to secure that 900th Pro Stock victory with that special shift trophy is pretty awesome.

“We’ve accomplished way more than I ever thought in Pro Stock. We’ve stuck it out and showed a lot of tenacity. This win is very significant. You treat every race day the same, but this win at the 900th Pro Stock race means a lot to me.”

Stanfield, the defending event winner and son of five-time Super Stock world champion Greg Stanfield, advanced to his seventh career final via round wins against teammate Troy Coughlin Jr., Rodger Brogdon and Fernando Cuadra Jr.


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 62nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. The race was the first of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Justin Ashley; 2. Austin Prock; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Steve Torrence; 5. Josh Hart; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Tony Schumacher; 8. Mike Salinas; 9. Doug Kalitta; 10. Leah Pruett; 11. Ron August; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Buddy Hull; 14. Jim Maroney; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Doug Foley. 

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Cruz Pedregon; 4. Matt Hagan; 5. Alexis DeJoria; 6. Bob Tasca III; 7. J.R. Todd; 8. Tony Jurado; 9. Bobby Bode; 10. Jim Campbell; 11. Chad Green; 12. Jeff Arend; 13. Tim Wilkerson; 14. Terry Haddock; 15. John Force; 16. Jason Rupert.

Pro Stock _1. Erica Enders; 2. Aaron Stanfield; 3. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 4. Greg Anderson; 5. Dallas Glenn; 6. Rodger Brogdon; 7. Deric Kramer; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Chris McGaha; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 11. Matt Hartford; 12. Cristian Cuadra; 13. Mason McGaha; 14. John Cerbone; 15. Camrie Caruso; 16. Kyle Koretsky.

Final results from the 62nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals:

Top Fuel _ Justin Ashley, 3.694-seconds, 314.53 mph def. Austin Prock, 3.713-seconds, 333.00 mph. 

Funny Car _ Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.861, 329.58 def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.882, 333.82.

Pro Stock _ Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.559, 210.31 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 13.250, 67.26.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Mike Coughlin, 5.237, 275.90 def. Joey Severance, 6.863, 133.18.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.482, 266.27 def. Nick Januik, Camaro, 5.628, 260.56.

Competition Eliminator _ Cody Lane, Chevy Cavalier, 8.417, 152.11 def. Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, 8.358, 146.61.

Super Stock _ Ken Etter, Dodge Shadow, 10.178, 129.02 def. Jimmy DeFrank, Chevy Cobalt, 8.936, 154.02.

Stock Eliminator _ Leo Glasbrenner, Chevy Camaro, 9.470, 141.94 def. Jeff Lane, Camaro, 9.263, 145.00.

Super Comp _ James Glenn, Dragster, 8.907, 172.28 def. Wade Archer, Dragster, 8.939, 170.75. 

Super Gas _ Ed Olpin, Chevy Camaro, 9.924, 167.99 def. Pete Bothe, Porsche, 9.893, 147.25. 

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Moe Trujillo, Dragster, 7.066, 188.41 def. Phil Dion, Dragster, Foul/Red Light. 

Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Don Meziere, Chevy Cobalt, 6.776, 193.21 def. Jeff Gillette, Pontiac GTO, 6.932, 198.50.

Final round-by-round results from the 62nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals:


ROUND ONE _ Antron Brown, 3.724, 327.66 def. Leah Pruett, 3.748, 328.86; Austin Prock, 3.725, 333.08 def. Clay Millican, 4.350, 170.08; Brittany Force, 3.699, 325.14 def. Ron August, 3.909, 319.07; Justin Ashley, 3.699, 330.39 def. Jim Maroney, 4.056, 234.09; Mike Salinas, 3.718, 325.45 def. Buddy Hull, 3.966, 269.24; Tony Schumacher, 3.726, 324.28 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.730, 327.11; Steve Torrence, 3.724, 328.06 def. Doug Foley, 6.629, 100.66; Josh Hart, 3.740, 327.82 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.920, 300.20; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Prock, 3.780, 329.10 def. Schumacher, 8.516, 74.03; Force, 3.726, 322.27 def. Hart, 3.728, 329.91; Ashley, 3.692, 333.33 def. Brown, 3.742, 326.00; Torrence, 3.718, 326.08 def. Salinas, 10.541, 76.35; 

SEMIFINALS _ Prock, 3.687, 331.36 def. Force, 3.700, 328.06; Ashley, 3.702, 329.42 def. Torrence, 3.731, 326.00; 

FINAL _ Ashley, 3.694, 314.53 def. Prock, 3.713, 333.00. 


ROUND ONE _ Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Supra, 3.917, 327.35 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 4.093, 297.02; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.071, 260.31 def. Chad Green, Ford Mustang, 4.124, 282.13; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.890, 328.86 def. Jason Rupert, Mustang, Foul/Outer Boundary; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.920, 329.75 def. John Force, Camaro, 10.412, 76.53; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.954, 323.43 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 6.011, 120.36; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.268, 215.10 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.038, 154.74; Tony Jurado, Mustang, 5.416, 136.33 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.972, 188.96; J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.957, 325.22 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.039, 290.94; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Pedregon, 3.962, 323.66 def. DeJoria, 3.981, 323.50; Hight, 3.893, 331.20 def. Jurado, 8.647, 84.98; Capps, 3.890, 324.05 def. Todd, 4.234, 220.58; Hagan, 3.885, 328.94 def. Tasca III, 3.984, 325.77; 

SEMIFINALS _ Capps, 3.881, 331.28 def. Pedregon, 3.918, 309.77; Hight, 3.861, 332.10 def. Hagan, 4.026, 317.64; 

FINAL _ Hight, 3.861, 329.58 def. Capps, 3.882, 333.82. 


ROUND ONE _Dallas Glenn, Chevy Camaro, 6.577, 208.52 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.565, 209.33; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.627, 208.23 def. Camrie Caruso, Camaro, 6.988, 148.59; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.576, 209.30 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.576, 207.98; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.579, 209.65 def. John Cerbone, Camaro, 6.716, 181.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.531, 208.81 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 209.56; Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.607, 208.23 def. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, Broke; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.558, 210.05 def. Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.581, 209.92; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.536, 209.49 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.569, 209.69; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Cuadra Jr., 6.626, 207.27 def. Butner, 12.430, 71.21; Enders, 6.565, 209.72 def. Glenn, 6.570, 207.66; Stanfield, 6.561, 209.07 def. Brogdon, 6.590, 208.23; Anderson, 6.561, 207.27 def. Kramer, 6.595, 208.97; 

SEMIFINALS _ Enders, 6.569, 209.43 def. Anderson, 6.797, 171.14; Stanfield, 6.567, 208.71 def. Cuadra Jr., 6.631, 207.78; 

FINAL _ Enders, 6.559, 210.31 def. Stanfield, 13.250, 67.26.

Point standings (top-10) following the 62nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals:

Top Fuel _1. Justin Ashley, 124; 2. Austin Prock, 96; 3. Brittany Force, 82; 4. Steve Torrence, 74; 5. Mike Salinas, 61; 6. Antron Brown, 53; 7. (tie) Josh Hart, 52; Tony Schumacher, 52; 9. Doug Kalitta, 34; 10. (tie) Shawn Langdon, 33, Leah Pruett, 33.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, 122; 2. Ron Capps, 105; 3. Matt Hagan, 79; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 75; 5. Alexis DeJoria, 54; 6. J.R. Todd, 53; 7. Tony Jurado, 52; 8. Bob Tasca III, 51; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 34; 10. (tie) Jeff Arend, 32, Bobby Bode, 32, Jim Campbell, 32.

Pro Stock _1. Erica Enders, 125; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 103; 3. Greg Anderson, 79; 4. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 71; 5. (tie) Bo Butner, 54; Deric Kramer, 54; 7. Dallas Glenn, 53; 8. Rodger Brogdon, 52; 9. Kyle Koretsky, 37; 10. Camrie Caruso, 33.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 22 2022
No Comment