Justin Ashley picked up his first career No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel on Saturday, clinching his first top spot at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. John Force (Funny Car) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also qualified No. 1 at the sixth of 22 races during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
On the strength of his pass of 3.669-seconds at 331.77 mph on Friday in his 11,000-horsepower Phillips Connect dragster powered by Vita C Shot, Ashley (pictured above) secured his first No. 1 position in his young career, doing so at the same track where he made his Top Fuel debut in 2019. Ashley will open eliminations in a first-round quad that also features Cameron Ferre, Austin Prock and Antron Brown, looking to power to his second win of 2022 and potentially take over the points lead in Top Fuel.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time, but to be able to sit here and say we’ve qualified No. 1 at an event like this with the depth in this Top Fuel field, it really says a lot about our team,” Ashley said. “I’m along for the ride and I’m enjoying it, that much I can tell you. There’s pressure on raceday because it’s raceday. It’s just about going out there and putting our best foot forward.”
Leah Pruett qualified second with a 3.686 at 327.51, making a series of strong runs in qualifying, while four-time defending event winner Steve Torrence grabbed the third spot with a 3.694. Prock, who qualified eighth, broke the track speed record during the final session with a blast of 333.58. Points leader Brittany Force, who has back-to-back wins this year, qualified seventh.
In Funny Car, Force’s track-record run of 3.850 at 334.24 from Friday in his 11,000-horsepower PEAK/BlueDEF Platinum Chevrolet Camaro SS helped the 16-time world champ secure his first top qualifier of the year and 164th in his career. Force is the defending event winner at the four-wide event in Charlotte and has already enjoyed a solid weekend at “The Bellagio of Dragstrips,” making three stellar passes during qualifying. He’ll try to get his first win of 2022, opening Sunday with a quad that features Bob Tasca III and Alexis DeJoria.
“It’s a team effort and Robert Hight ran quicker, 3.87 to our 3.89 (in the final qualifying session), but feel I good about that because three out of four good runs for us and a little consistency,” Force said. “If Robert wins, we win, but I want to win, too. He’s got a couple on board (in 2022); I need to get going there. Consistency is what we’re looking for. I’m trying to find myself on the Tree. So, good day for (our team) and let’s see where tomorrow goes.”
Points leader Matt Hagan, who won last weekend in Houston, stayed in second thanks to his pass of 3.867 at 330.55 from Friday, while defending world champ Ron Capps rounded out the top three thanks to his 3.873 at 332.02.
Sampey turned in a banner performance on Saturday, making two quality runs on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki, including a top run of 6.714 at 201.16 to give the three-time world champion her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and the 54th in her career. Sampey added another strong run of 6.721 at 201.82 to close out the day, giving her the two quickest runs of the weekend thus far and plenty of momentum heading into eliminations on Sunday. Sampey, who will meet Kelly Clontz, Joey Gladstone and defending world champ Matt Smith in the first round of eliminations, is seeking her first win of the season.
“We were a little late on this No. 1 qualifier,” Sampey said. “We should have had it in Gainesville, we should have had it in Houston, and we definitely got it here, thank goodness. I knew my Suzuki had it in it, but I’ve been most of the problem. It’s just an awesome motorcycle and (crew chief) Andrew (Hines) is doing a great job tuning. This team gives me everything I need and it’s up to me to get the job done, and I’m going to work on that tomorrow. The confidence is definitely coming and we’re learning the bike together, and it’s all coming together.”
Friday’s provisional No. 1 Steve Johnson, who won last weekend in Houston, improved on his time, taking the second spot after going 6.732 at 200.05. Points leader Karen Stoffer is third thanks to a 6.763 at 199.79.
In the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon, Justin Bond drove to the No. 1 position with his pass of 5.744 at 248.20. It is the sixth career No. 1 qualifier for Bond, who will look for his first win of the season at a race that is powered by Precision Racing Suspension. Gainesville winner Kris Thorne qualified second with a 5.751 at 253.42 and Rickie Smith is third after going 5.760 at 252.76.
Eliminations for the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals begin at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday at zMAX Dragway.