Kevin's Corner · Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday November 6, 2012
When Travis Pastrana drove a race in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60, competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Richmond last September a few fans raised an eyebrow at the development.
Two months later, consider both eyebrows raised.
Pastrana, the extreme sports star looking to break into stock car racing, is reportedly close to a deal that will have him in a Roush Fenway Nationwide car full-time in 2013. This follows a debut season of nine Nationwide and a lone Camping World Truck Series start, during which his highest finish was a 13th place at the Indianapolis Nationwide event in July. Originally his grand NASCAR entrance was to occur in 2011 — he has a few K&N Pro Series starts to prove it — but an injury stemming from a failed motorcycle jump changed that.
He then formed a partnership with RAB Racing for 2012, even prompting the team to change to his familiar No. 99. It seemed a good fit for Pastrana, who needed worthwhile equipment at the very least, and could get that with Robby Benton’s organization. But after only eight races with the team, it appears Pastrana has his sights set on something much bigger.
Still, Pastrana being linked to Roush was unexpected. The 28-year-old’s stint with Roush seemed just that: a stint, a one-off deal. His results certainly didn’t warrant anything long-term with the elite team. Yes, he led six laps at Atlanta before an accident ruined his day, then scored a fifth-place start with Roush at Richmond, indicating potential. But Roush? Full-time?
Well, Pastrana’s been nothing if not daring throughout his career as a stuntman and pure daredevil, with an element of surprise around every corner.
There’s your element of surprise, I suppose.
As of this writing, Pastrana has about half of the Nationwide season covered in terms of sponsorship — probably from Boost Mobile, which has backed the driver in his recent racing endeavors, and perhaps long-time supporter Red Bull. But as Roush Fenway has done with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and even Matt Kenseth on the Cup level, the team is committed to running Pastrana all season, unsponsored or not.
That’s a little surprising given the Roush career of Trevor Bayne. Though the former Daytona 500 champ is slated to run the entire Nationwide season in 2013, his 2012 was cut mightily short due to lack of sponsorship. Perhaps it’s the fact that Pastrana brings a fair amount of backing compared to what Bayne — who, of course, has more racing experience and better results — brought, which makes the remainder of the season easier to piece together.
It could also be Pastrana’s star power. Much like Danica Patrick and Ricky Carmichael preceding him, the daredevil comes with a distinguishable amount of notoriety from other talents, which translates to new fans entering the sport. Both Patrick and Carmichael have had up-and-down stints in NASCAR so far, with the latter seemingly out of the sport with little to show for it. Patrick, in a parallel with Pastrana, will run full-time in NASCAR’s premier Cup series next year despite underwhelming results so far in Nationwide competition.
Jack Roush doesn’t hire just anyone, though, and has seemed impervious to the onslaught of “ride buyers” (of which Pastrana could be argued to be a part) in recent years. His list of triumphs (Edwards, Kenseth, Biffle, etc.) far outweigh his busts (Barrett, O’Quinn). Chances are he sees something in the guy that his stats don’t show just yet.
Still, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Travis Pastrana in 2013, even with superior quality equipment. In 2012 he’s raced everywhere from Richmond to Indianapolis, but hasn’t competed on a shorter track like Bristol or a superspeedway (ala Daytona or Talladega) with the Nationwide car. Expect a similar trajectory to that of Patrick at first, where there’ll be more struggles than triumphs.
Roush Fenway, however, is simply a better organization than JR Motorsports. And while Pastrana might not start off exceptionally, the potential he’s shown in 2012 does demonstrate promise (three top-20 results in his final four starts). That’s even if his results suggest either a full-time ride at RAB or part-time with Roush.
At the very least, a Travis Pastrana run at the Nationwide title means exposure for the series that will make up the ground lost from Danica’s jump to Cup. Charismatic as the guy is, he’s sure to convert a lot of fans along the way, too.
So go ahead and lower those eyebrows, because Wonder Boy’s ready to take the town. Will he? Driving for Roush Fenway will certainly help matters.
…let’s just hope he stays off the bike before a race this time.
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