What a year 2020 was for Justin Ashley. The 26-year-old NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel racer piloted his Strutmasters.com dragster to a win at the NHRA Summernationals. He nabbed ten round wins and a semifinal finish at the U.S. nationals. During the otherwise topsy-turvy 2020 season, the Plainview, New York native was as consistent as it gets, qualifying for every national event. All of that was enough to grab Justin Ashley the NHRA Rookie of the Year honors.
But that's not enough for Ashley and his team. With the 2021 season looming, they're looking to build on the success of last year to reach new levels.
A Quick Start
Another glamorous statistic for Ashley is that he led his category in reaction time. But his quick starts weren't limited to individual races. They've been a theme of his entire career so far.
Since jumping into Top Fuel racing in 2019, Ashley's career has taken off. But even before he started winning races, he had the attention of major sponsors--Strutmasters being one of them
. When the Roxboro, NC suspension manufacturers upped their sponsorship to primary sponsor in early 2020, founder Chip Lofton said at the time, “I see a star in the making. Justin’s got it all the way around. First of all, if you just look at him as a racer. He’s got to be in the top echelon of somebody that can come off of the line quickly and take it to the other end.”
He could not have been more right. In addition to his success on the track, he was also a hit on the airwaves. Ashley was often interviewed during NHRA FOX broadcasts. Throughout the season, he was a fixture on several regional and national radio shows.
Ashley entered last season as a young rookie without too many expectations. But after a dazzling rookie campaign, all that changes. This season, the pressure is on.
"In 2020, we came out there with nothing to lose," said Ashley, in an interview with NHRA.tv. "There weren't very many expectations from the outside. Obviously, from our standpoint, we had high expectations. We expected to go out and win races. But it's against the best competition in the world. Now, maybe there are those raised expectations. A target on our back, if you will."
But just because he and his team are expected to make even bigger waves this season, don't expect them to change their approach.
"The truth of the matter is that half of this battle is mental," Ashley said. "For us, nothing is going to change on that end. We're going to go out there and race like we've got nothing to lose. Despite the expectations from the outside."
Justin Ashley Looking to Build On Rookie Year
Justin Ashley is the 15th winner of the NHRA Rookie of the Year award to come from the Top Fuel category. Since 1990, 15 drivers who won NHRA Rookie of the Year honors went on to win a world championship in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. But Ashley isn't waiting around. Many consider him and his team to be serious contenders for this year's title.
“For right now we take it one race at time, one round at a time," said Ashley. "But ultimately, our goal is to win every race. We're there with the intention of being competitive. We understand that this is the best competition in the world and we have so much respect for all the other teams and the other drivers. But our goal is to put ourselves in a position to win every race that we attend."
In interview after interview, Ashley has stressed the importance of the team around him at Davis Motorsports and beyond. He says that the team working as a unit is the key to accomplishing those goals this season and going forward.
"Anything that we do is going to flow through our team," he said. "It's going to flow through the group of guys that we have. So in order to accomplish those goals we have to just continue to do what we're doing. Continue to work, continue to improve, continue to learn from our experiences. And continue to get better, myself included. We have to work together as a team and work together collectively to achieve the ultimate goal which is winning races and eventually winning championships. I think moreso than anything we just have to focus on working together, working as a group, and continuing to improve and continuing to learn as the season goes on."
A big part of that team is his sponsors. Strutmasters renewed and expanded their sponsorship for 2021, along with several others. Ashley says that support has made a big difference as the team gets ready to compete this season.
"To be able to have companies like Strutmasters and Chip Lofton, to be able to have guys like JC and Spencer from Auto Shocker agree to come back in 2021 and agree to come back in a bigger and better way than ever, it just means the world to my team," Ashley said to NHRA.tv. "It means the world to me. And we know it's going to put us in a much better position in 2021 and going forward."
Justin Ashley and his team have a chance to get one of their signature quick starts with the AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, beginning March 11 in Gainesville, Florida. Tickets are available. Click here
to see the TV schedule.
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