Ashley's championship hopes left on the line
Richmond, Sunday: For 21 out of 23 races in the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Mike Ashley, driver of the Torco Race Fuels Dodge Charger R/T was in contention for the Funny Car championship, but his hopes of winning wining it all were dashed after a holeshot loss Sunday in the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park in Richmond, Va.
Entering Sunday's eliminations qualified third, Ashley was paired against No. 14 Tim Wilkerson in the first round. Jockeying to be in the top four in order to go on to the final round of the Countdown playoffs, Ashley had to win just one more round than either Ron Capps or Gary Scelzi. After watching Capps take out powerhouse Robert Hight and advance to round two, the pressure was on the native New Yorker to pull off a win in order to stay in the hunt.
The race was ultimately won by reaction time, with Wilkerson posting an .077 to Ashley's uncharacteristically slow .120, and despite Ashley having the quicker time in the quarter-mile at 4.866 seconds, Wilkerson reached the finish line .033 seconds before Ashley, taking the win with a slower 4.876 seconds.
"Of course, I'm extremely disappointed, because we had the car to beat today, there's no doubt about that. Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald, crew chiefs] had this Torco Dodge dialed in, and the numbers proved it. Both Saturday and Sunday, we ran the quickest times of all the Funny Cars," Ashley said.
"Realistically, though, this is definitely a team of champions - every one of these guys. This is a brand new operation and our first year together as a team and with me as owner/driver. We don't have the years of experience or number of races under our belts that so many of these other teams do. The fact that we made it to the Countdown to Four is something that only four other teams were able to do, and that in itself says so much.
"This is a business of wins and losses and fractions of seconds, but in all of that it's easy to overlook the most significant things, like making a difference in our world. We've been able to do so much in support of causes like autism awareness, supporting Make a Wish, the POW/MIA and veterans of our country, and you can't forget the Eric Blake Faulkner Foundation car and our storybook U.S. Nationals win.
"Those are the things that really matter," Ashley said.
"We've won three races, including Indy, set track records, ran the fastest speed ever in a Funny Car - all these things, and the only thing we weren't able to do was seal the deal with a championship, but, like I said - this team has a championship mentality, and I'm so proud of each one of these guys," he said.
Ashley said he doesn't plan to slow down despite being relegated to compete for the fifth place spot, adding: "The rest of the season, we're going to focus on winning both Vegas and Pomona, and keeping the other drivers honest.
"We've got a whole lot to be excited about for next year, too," he continued. "We've got Melanie coming on board, and that's going to be a great addition, and I'll be back running, too, so this has all been a learning experience preparing us for a two-car run at the 2008 championship, and I'm again, very confident we'll be right there in the thick of things in the future.
"This is not the end - it's the beginning of a new chapter in our book, and the first chapter was pretty darn spectacular if I do say so myself," Ashley said.
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