Pastrana finishes 11th in Daytona 500 debut, “this exceeded all my expectations”

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.

When the 212th and final lap of the Daytona 500 occurred on Sunday, just four days later, Pastrana found himself in 11th place.

“Just to be in the hunt at the end. We weren’t in the hunt for the win but to be in the top 10 on that last restart, this exceeded all my expectations,” said a happy Pastrana.

“This exceeded all of my expectations as far as results. 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 honor to be on the track with these guys. It was amazing that we were able to put it in the top 20. I’m proud of everyone involved and so thankful to be here.

“As excited as I am right now, I might sleep for the next week. I am mentally and physically completely drained. … This was one of the greatest if not the greatest weeks or couple of weeks of my life.”

Pastrana even led a lap on Sunday, although he says that it was purely by accident.

“I led a lap, but it was by mistake,” he continued. “They said, ‘Come in, no stay out.’ I’m like, ‘I’m already out.’ I led a lap at the Daytona 500 and finished top 20.

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

Pastrana told everyone earlier this week that he was on the hook should his car come back crashed. While he was collected in that final incident, the car wasn’t too badly damaged in the process which is another win for him.

“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 on Wednesday night. “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. 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.”

The best he can he did. Nearly a top 10 finish in the Great American Race in his first Cup start isn’t something to take lightly.

Pastrana, 39, an X Games gold medalist and champion in a number of disciplines from supercross to rally racing, has never raced in Cup before. He did note however 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.”

Pastrana absolutely did that. He should be proud.

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