The Frontstretch: Racing To The Point: Is Travis Pastrana Really Committed To NASCAR? by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday July 23, 2013

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Racing To The Point: Is Travis Pastrana Really Committed To NASCAR?

Racing to the Point · Brett Poirier · Tuesday July 23, 2013


Legend has it that Travis Pastrana once jumped out of a plane without a parachute. He did something most of us probably wouldn’t do with a parachute, without one. Whatever it is that sends a tingle down the average person’s spine as they stand at the edge of a cliff, or are sent flying through the air like a missile, Pastrana is missing it. He’s fearless.

Travis Pastrana says he wants to make it big in NASCAR. But with all his extra-curricular activities, how strong is that commitment?

He’s made his living attempting stunts even the craziest sons of b****** wouldn’t. As a Moto-X freestyle rider at X Games, Pastrana became the first person to successfully land a double-backflip in competition. His competitors, who also make their livelihoods living life on the edge, even thought it was crazy. And it was.

In the time since that jump, Pastrana has taken his reckless abandon to a 30-minute television show on MTV (“Nitro Circus”), to rally racing, and to Rallycross — which is sort of racing, but more just complete chaos.

This year, his top priority — or so he says — has become NASCAR racing, driving full-time for Roush Fenway Racing in the Nationwide Series. He’s finding that a little more difficult than he originally imagined. Who knew that a guy who went from jumping dirt bikes to driving in rally might face a difficult transition into NASCAR’s second-tier series?

In his first full Nationwide season, Pastrana has been a magnet to the outside wall. Even on his better days — 15th-place runs — he seems to enjoy rubbing the 37 different colors on his No. 60 against the white of the SAFER Barrier. He’s not just a performer, but also an artist as well — a painter.

Following one of his strongest qualifying performances (5th) of the season on Sunday, Pastrana slowly backed up into his normal habitat (15th to 20th) and then did some painting. He finished one lap down in 18th. On that same weekend, Pastrana competed in TRAXXAS The Off Road Championship (TORC) and jumped a truck through the dirt to a 13th-place result in the Pro 2-wheel-drive class.

The weekend before at New Hampshire, Pastrana also pulled double-duty, but not Cup and Nationwide, or Nationwide and Trucks. No, Pastrana did Global Rallycross Championship and Nationwide. He finished 16th in the Nationwide race on the slick asphalt oval, having raced over jumps and dirt, and whatever else, to finish seventh in the nine-car rally feature two days earlier.

Last year, he pulled the same doubly duty at Loudon and crashed out of the Nationwide race early, and won the Global Rallycross Championship event.

He’s having a great time, he’s putting on a show, but how is jumping a Dodge Dart through the infield at Loudon or a Traxxas truck at Chicago helping him become a better NASCAR driver? The short answer is, it’s not. Pastrana has admitted that on weekends he has gone back and forth between Rallycross and NASCAR, he’s had a difficult time adjusting, especially in qualifying. He said earlier this season, that his worst qualifying performances in Nationwide were often after he last drove in rally. So, if you are fully committed to Nationwide and becoming the best NASCAR driver you can be, why would you continue doing something that you know is hindering your progress?

It’s a head-scratcher, and it makes you wonder just how committed Pastrana is to NASCAR. He certainly seems to have the potential to be a good stock car driver. Being fearless and driving on the edge can take you a long way in NASCAR. But is the performer and thrill-seeker in Pastrana, going to get in the way of the driver?

For the sake of the sport, let’s hope not. NASCAR needs Pastrana. It needs his link to extreme sports to show the younger demographic that NASCAR is cool, and it needs his happy-go-lucky personality in a garage area where sometimes personality seems more hidden than Chad Knaus’ latest innovation.

But I still question his commitment.

“NASCAR’s a lot of fun, for sure,” Pastrana told the Boston Globe at Loudon. “But I think anyone who drives goes, ‘I want to fly. I want to jump a car on purpose.’ They don’t want it to be like, ‘Uh-oh, something’s going wrong.’ ”

Pastrana has stayed positive through the first half of this season, but if things continue to keep going wrong in Nationwide, how long will he be around?

It’s far too early to determine Pastrana’s ceiling as a NASCAR driver because he hasn’t even run a full season in stock cars. His results right now in Nationwide seem like less of a concern than the outside distractions around him limiting his potential as a NASCAR driver.

His fearlessness and thrill-seeking ways made Pastrana a household name and gave him an opportunity in NASCAR, but it could be what holds him back from this point forward.

Contact Brett Poirier

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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Michael in SoCal
07/23/2013 10:33 AM

It will be interesting to see what Pastrana can do if he focuses on Nascar alone. Not sure he can or will do that, but it could be interesting. He has shown he can be very fast.

07/23/2013 01:48 PM

I keep reading where NASCAR (insert name of series here) NEEDS this driver or that driver for this reason or another. I disagree.

What NASCAR NEEDS is good racing. I define that as the cars being able to race side by side and pass. NASCAR NEEDS to drop the gimmicks and get back the things that made the fans pay attention in the first place.

07/23/2013 04:14 PM

Yes and no, Gina. To get new race fans to watch good racing in the first place, gimmicks like Danica and Travis are an unfortunate requirement.

As for Travis, I believe he wants to succeed but is finding it too hard to cut the cord from his nutty activities. I agree with the author that he won’t reach his full potential in NASCAR unless he focuses on it exclusively. The competition is far too tough to play around with.

07/24/2013 08:31 AM

SB, I understand your point, but it doesn’t appear that these gimmicks are working very well. If they were, wouldn’t there be more fans both at the track and watching TV? Improve the racing and it will attract more fans overall.

07/24/2013 03:18 PM

Like I said, Gina, I agree with you that the racing needs to improve. But think about it.. the racing at the short track level puts the top levels to shame yet you don’t see those races on network TV, do you?

So while good racing is important, every hardcore race fan starts out as a casual fan and the efforts to bring in more casual fans starts with gimmicks like Danica, unfortunately.