NASCAR Cup Series

“Anyone that says NASCAR is boring, they’re full of crap” Pastrana upbeat after first—and only—Daytona 500

5 Mins read
Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

The past week was one of the busiest that Travis Pastrana experienced, but it is one that he will never forget as he got to compete on dirt and make his NASCAR Cup Series début in the Daytona 500. Despite a pit penalty and being caught in a wreck on the final lap, he nearly finished in the top ten in eleventh in what he plans to be his only Cup start.

“We weren’t in the hunt for the win, but to be in the top ten on that last restart, this exceeded all my expectations,” said Pastrana after the race. “Obviously, it’s disappointing now because you want to do the best you can. I was really trying not to crash and unfortunately when things got tight in there, I wasn’t able to control it on the top with the push.”

The wreck occurred in turn two when Pastrana, who was running ninth, got loose off a bump from Aric Almirola, sending him down into Kyle Larson. Larson was turned up the banking and hit the outside wall, with Pastrana being sandwiched between Almirola and the RFK Racing cars of Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski. Pastrana was among nine cars involved including his 23XI Racing team-mate Bubba Wallace, but was able to bring his car to the finish.

“It’s tough just because you can’t really see what’s going on in front of you so when the two cars in front of you connect, they really take off quick, but when you’re pushing them, you’re worried about having happen what happened to me where you kind of spin the guy in front of you,” he explained. “My car had been pretty tight even off of (turn) four so I was super surprised that it got as loose as it did and we’d been a little loose on the top and we were all the way up on the top. Just disappointing.

“The car is not a complete write off, so the kids’ college fund is intact. It was a win, and it was awesome.”

While certainly not the way he wanted the race to conclude, an eleventh was still a solid day after a hectic Daytona 500 weekend. His #67 Toyota Camry did not possess a charter as a one-off entry, meaning he had to qualify on time or via the Duel on Thursday. Although he acquired a grid spot via the former, he started last as the fellow non-chartered car of Chandler Smith finished ahead of him in their Duel.

Pastrana was mostly mired in the thirties before finding himself leading two laps during green-flag pit stops on laps 39 and 40, though he conceded it was “by mistake. They said, ‘Come in, no, stay out.’ I’m like, ‘I’m already out.'”

This moment came crashing down on him when he went through too many boxes when he pitted, which trapped him a lap down for much of the race. Pastrana found his break when a series of large wrecks during the second and third stages helped him get back on the lead lap before eventually finding himself in the top twenty as overtime began.

“I really wanted to give my team-mate more help, but once he locked on the bumper of whoever was in front of him and I wasn’t on his bumper, I kind of left him so that was disappointing, but still made a pretty good run coming across the white flag,” he recalled. “When that top started going, I thought, ‘We might be top five here.'”

While those hopes were dashed by the late wreck, he was more than pleased with the finish.

“This exceeded all of my expectations as far as results,” Pastrana commented. “These are the best drivers in the world. I’m not a great rear-wheel driver, I’m not a great pavement driver. Restrictor plate racing is a little different. We had a great team with this 23XI Toyota team, and it was an honour to be on the track with these guys. It was amazing that we were able to put it in the top twenty. I’m proud of everyone involved and so thankful to be here.”

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

However, he also stressed that he had no interest in doing another Cup race, let alone another Daytona 500. In fact, the only NASCAR races he would be open to would be in the Craftsman Truck Series, having run the Truck Daytona race on Friday for Niece Motorsports and finishing thirteenth. Niece’s general manager Cody Efaw was previously Pastrana’s car chief during his lone full NASCAR Xfinity Series season in 2013.

Pastrana departed NASCAR after said year, citing factors like disappointment with his performance as he finished fourteenth in points. Despite being one of the biggest names in action sports and closely connected with the NASCAR industry, he felt the demands of stock car racing were too taxing at the moment.

This was especially the case as he has started to scale back his career, having announced in early February that he would stop racing regularly in the American Rally Association and offshore powerboat racing to focus on family and running his Nitro Rallycross series. Pastrana had also been deeply affected by his injuries in a skydiving accident while filming for Ken Block‘s Gymkhana video, followed by Block’s passing in January.

“If Cody from Niece Motorsports calls me up and says, ‘Hey, what are you doing this weekend?’, I’ll jump in, but I’m not good enough to be the best at this sport with my skill set,” Pastrana explained. “The amount of time that this would take right now and I’m trying to slow down. The reason I’m here right now is because I feel like this is the best I’ve ever been as a driver. We’ve been winning championships on the dirt, and I just wanted to experience the whole Daytona Speedweeks.

“As excited as I am right now, I might sleep for the next week. I am mentally and physically completely drained. Even the Truck race, my heart rate was 170 in a three-wide pack. 182 was my high. That’s just on adrenaline. So, anyone that says NASCAR is boring, they’re full of crap. They’ve definitely never been in a car because this was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”

In the week leading up to the Daytona 500, Pastrana had focused on dirt track racing at Volusia Speedway, where he won a modified A-Main at the DIRTcar nationals.

Daytona would then become a bucket list item that he could finally check off alongside his friends. Block’s family had attended qualifying to support Pastrana, while his cousin and fellow Nitro Circus star Greg Powell served as his tyre carrier. Close friends Conor Daly and Jimmie Johnson were also non-chartered cars who make the field and got to race together, fulfilling what Daly told The Checkered Flag was the “perfect secenario.”

“This was one of the greatest if not the greatest weeks or couple of weeks of my life,” Pastrana concluded. “Just coming here and even to go down to Volusia and camping with (Matt) Crafton and all the fans that came down there. Then realizing there were three guys that did the Clash and flew the red eye. These guys just love to drive. The Blocks came here just to watch me qualify and I’ve got all my friends and family here.”

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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