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Mon, 5 Sep 2005, 03:03 PM

Seven of Top Eight Advance
Courtesy of Duke Ritenhouse

Ashley Keeps Pressure on in Points Battle

CLERMONT, Ind. -- A phenomenal day of racing on Sunday for the AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge presented by TLR ended with nearly all of the favorites advancing into Monday's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals quarterfinals.

Following an unexpectedly strong third and final qualifying session Sunday afternoon, seven of the eight drivers in the top half of the field opened the evening eliminations program with first-round wins. The top-half domination would have been complete had No. 7 Steve Engel not been disqualified for crossing the center line while he was outrunning No. 10 Thomas Patterson.

No. 1 qualifier Joshua Hernandez (Tommy Lipar Racing '57 Chevy), led the way again in the first round of eliminations, blasting Zach Barklage (RP Lumber '37 Chevy) with the low e.t. of the round and winning, 6.11 to 6.25. Five other first-round winners reached the 6- teens, including No. 2 Jay Payne (6.16), and No. 3 Mike Ashley (6.14), who is seeking his sixth event win of the season.

In addition to possibly winning his first U.S. Nationals title, Ashley (Torco Race Fuels '67 Mustang) is also seeking to make it nearly impossible for another driver to claim the 2005 AMS/TLR Cup championship. Entering the U.S. Nationals, Ashley led Hernandez by 976 points; should he leave Indianapolis with a lead of 1,033 points or greater, Ashley would put Hernandez in the position of having to earn bonus points for setting e.t. or speed records in either Dallas or Las Vegas (the final two AMS/TLR events of the season) in order to win the Cup competition. Neither of those tracks is likely to produce the level of performance necessary to eclipse the current Pro Mod Challenge records of 6.030 seconds and 236.92 mph.

Ashley faces teammate Troy Coughlin (Jeg's Mail Order '67 Mustang), a former NHRA national event winner in Pro Stock, in Monday's quarterfinals. Hernandez, seeking a second straight win on the Pro Mod Challenge tour, will be a heavy favorite against Mike Bell in their quarterfinals race.

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