DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Travis Pastrana didn’t know what to do when he strapped into his No. 67 Toyota on Wednesday night. He’s never been in this new Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series car before, let alone used a sequential shifter. His first Cup Series laps around the Daytona International Speedway would be when he rolled off pit lane.
Pastrana, 39, earned one of his four career top-10 NASCAR finishes at the Daytona International Speedway – a 10th place effort in the 2013 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the high banks. As with Conor Daly, he wished that there was an opportunity to practice, but he also put time in on the simulators and does have the benefit of competing the full 2013 season in the Xfinity Series.
Pastrana, an X Games gold medalist and champion in a number of disciplines from supercross to rally racing, is entered in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race on Friday as well planning to run in his first DAYTONA 500 on Sunday.
Those plans are now in concrete.
Pastrana qualified 25th best on Wednesday night which was good enough to be the second quickest time among the six open cars. He’s locked in for his first Great American Race.
“I mean, every driver obviously wants to do the best they can,” a jubilated Pastrana said after qualifying. “Every driver in the field believes they can win the race. In restrictor plate races, anything can happen.
“Having said that, I’m just so fortunate to have sponsors that came from Rally, Black Rifle coffee and Dixon, to give me an opportunity to get in there with the 23XI team that gave me a car that was capable to get in on time.
“It was funny because everyone was celebrating and excited. Kurt Busch came right up to me at the end and said, Okay, now we get to work. It’s cool.
“When Denny brought me on to the team, he was the first one that didn’t just say, Oh, yeah, bring your money, we’ll try to get you a charter. He goes, You’re going to have to work your way in. We don’t have a charter for you. We can give you a car that I believe you can be capable of helping our team to win, whether that’s Bubba, Tyler, Denny, a Toyota.
“To have the opportunity now to try to start learning and try to figure out how to do the best that I can as a teammate to get up there, starting next to this guy right over here in the Duel.
“I mean, this has been a dream come true. It’s something that actually, when Jimmie had won out in California Speedway, that was one of my first dates with my wife. Hey, I want to do it. Poor wife was pregnant. I had a few drinks during the race, we were keeping him up late at night. Man, I want to do the 500. After that I talked to Trevor Bayne, got in with Waltrip. I got lost believing that I could actually race and be competitive.
“I’m not as good as these guys at rear wheel drive or pavement. But restrictor plate race. I made friends along the way. I’ve been driving more than I’ve ever driven. More seat time.
“I said to my wife, Look, I want to spend more time home. I want to step back a little bit. But right now this is the best chance I have, the best success I’ve had in vehicles to put my best foot forward.
“When Denny said, Hey, let’s come on, I believe that you can drive a car sideways, when we come down to the end, I’ll push you.
“I said, That’s all I need, let’s go.”
Pastrana notes that Daytona is a spot that’s been special to him in the past anyways. This is where he says he got his first win in the pro ranks in the 125 class. He qualified on the front row in the Xfinity Series and finished 10th backwards across the grass down the front straightaway.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the grass out there. Hopefully won’t be doing that this weekend,” he joked.
“At the end of the day we’ve had good success here. We’ve had great vehicles, great teams. At the end of the day I have a lot of friends on the track. I’m really hoping to still have friends at the end of this week.
“The drivers have all been amazing, every single driver on every team, even all the teams to help me put my best foot forward here. I want to hopefully make sure the NASCAR fans, when they leave here, they are not like, What an idiot. He drove very considerate and smart, was able to get it to the finish line at the end.
“If I can get this car on the lead lap to the finish line, I never said that before about anything but winning, but that will be a win.
“To be a part of The Great American Race, even looking at the little pass I got today that said ‘Cup Driver’. This is cool. I’m a motorcrosser. I’ve done a lot of fun things. We’ve dabbled a little bit in NASCAR. I got chewed up and spit out by these guys really fast.
“At the end of the day they’re the best drivers I believe in the entire world. It’s an honor to be able to race with these guys. To be able to line up in the 500 on Sunday will be a dream come true no matter what the outcome is. I’m just going to try to be as smart as I possibly can, make as few mistakes as I possibly can.
“Honestly, Kurt Busch said it the best, Now the homework starts, let’s get to work.”
Part of that work is what to do in Thursday night’s Duels. He has a spot and can just ride around in the back to get by. However, his good friend Conor Daly is in his Duel and needing help. He wants to help him but made a point that the risk could be too large because of an agreement with his sponsors and the team.
“So I’ve got some awesome sponsors, awesome car. I took the money for this race and I put it into racing the Truck Series and racing the dirt car nationals last week,” he said. “We didn’t quite have enough money to cover it.
“All the damage that’s done is on me. It’s my kids’ college education fund. You will be seeing a very mellow race tomorrow. We got Hedlesky in there. I’ll do whatever I can to learn as much as I can. But looking at Noah Gragson last year, he was three laps down, and I would be perfectly fine with that if that gets us in the show, we can start from there.
“Having said that, I go into tomorrow as any racer does, trying to learn what we can. If Hedlesky tells me to go, start pushing, start learning, well, it is what it is and we’ll try to make the smart decisions all the way through.
“At the end of the day we’re in it to do the best that we can. Damage or no damage, my goal is to obviously not be the cause of any of it, try to do the best we can.
“Hey, I’m going for it. We’ll see what happens.”
He says that no matter what, if there’s damage, he’s paying for it no matter who’s at fault. The easiest way to overcome that, to bring the car home in one piece. Most that do, have chances to win….