It was a long time coming, but Saturday night finally saw Travis Pastrana get behind the wheel of a Nationwide Series car for the first time. His debut was scheduled for last Summer when he unfortunately fractured his ankle, putting the entire operation on hold until this weekend. While the 11 X-games gold medalist has raced on four wheels in rally cars, Late Models and K&N East cars, he’d never been in a NASCAR National Stock Touring series before Friday, April 27th.
Pastrana started the race in the 25th slot but slid back to 27th at the drop of the green. He held station there until the first caution flag flew for the night. He reported to the team that the car was good into the corner and in the middle but was loose getting off. That was the case for most of the drivers in the race so Zipadelli chose to make a track bar adjustment and put on four fresh tires along with a full tank of gas. After the pit stop the No. 99 car was in 31st position on lap 30. He gained one spot by lap 40 and two more by lap 60, which put him in 28th spot when the caution flew again on lap 68. The associated pit stop saw four new tires, fuel and another track bar adjustment to try and increase the forward bite. The race restarted on lap 75 and Pastrana looked a little racier. By lap 80 he was up to 22nd spot and gained another by lap 90. He got himself a little out of shape exiting turn two on a couple of the subsequent laps which translated into a fall to the 23rd slot by lap 100. The caution flew again on lap 115 for a spin by Jason Bowles which let Pastrana come in and top off with fuel and grab four more new tires.
Over the next long run Pastrana held steady in the 20th position until he came into the pits for a stop. The No. 99 was timed as too fast exiting the pits, which resulted in a pass through penalty. When everything shook out, Pastrana was two laps down on lap 210 in the 24th position. The last forty laps of the race were uneventful for Pastrana and his debut turned into a 22nd place finish. After the race, Frontstretch caught up to Pastrana and his crew chief, Scott Zipadelli, to discuss the evening and plans going forward.
Reflecting on the goals for the day, Zipadelli was relatively pleased with their result. “Our realistic expectations were that we wanted to finish on the lead lap,” Zipadelli said. “Finish all of the laps and get him some experience racing. We did it, if we didn’t get the pit road penalty then we would have had a 17th place finish, which I think is very respectable, very impressive for his first time out.”
“He does very well,” Zipadelli added when asked about Pastrana’s communication with the crew. “He told me exactly what his issues were. He was very precise. I think the communication was very good. I don’t know where he learned all of that from but he did an awesome job. From the very first time we went testing it was like he’d driven stock cars for a long time.”
“We’re going to go back and make some changes on this race car to improve it for his driving style,” is what Zipadelli shared about the future plans for the team and effort. “We’re going to take it to Darlington. Race Talladega next week with Kenny Wallace and then get Travis ready to go to Darlington.”
“Absolutely unbelievable,” Pastrana gushed as he analyzed his first run in a Nationwide car. “I’ve never, well I shouldn’t say I’ve never been that nervous, but underprepared and overly enthusiastic is my motto. You’re riding a lot, you’re doing a lot, we’ve done some K&N races, but we got here, got all of my family here, got all of the press here. It was like paparazzi everywhere. I got in the car and I was like ‘I don’t know what is going to happen.’ Some people are going ‘It’s going to be so gnarly.’ Some people are saying ‘It will be just like K&N.’ First couple of laps I got stuck on the outside and I’m bumping into walls, I’m dropping positions, holding onto the steering wheel, I’ve got arm pump-tennis elbow, white knuckling the grip, then finally, the second long run, we started loosening up, started getting into a rhythm and started moving up. We went from almost in 30th place to almost 15th, moved up some spots, then my first green flag pit stop and I got on the gas too much, 40 feels SO SLOW after you’ve been going around the track.”
“I kept making the mistake early with telling them what the car was doing and how I was driving it,” Pastrana added about his communication abilities. “They said ‘tell them what you need to go faster’ and when you break it down and think about it, why can’t I go faster? It is communicating also with Matt Crafton, cause it was like ‘The middle is tight’ he said ‘Well you’re really loose coming in.’ I said ‘Well yeah, I’m super loose coming in.’ He said ‘If you’re loose coming in, fix the first thing first. If you’re loose coming in you’ll be tight in the middle and loose off. Fix the first one and you might fix the rest of it.’ Just learning to fix the corner from the beginning, fix the first problem first and go from there. These guys, at the end of practice, I was a little scared. I was like we didn’t have a very consistent car. I told them what was going on. The RAB guys, Zipadelli, that first lap, I know we looked like we were going backwards, but I was just scared and caught on the outside. The car was good and every time we came in it got better.” At this point Ryan Blaney came by and Pastrana asked how he’d done. “Hey, where’d you end up?” Blaney said, “Seventh”. “Holy $*^%! Dude, good job.” Pastrana congratulated him.
When asked about heading to Darlington and what he expects, Pastrana was pragmatic. “Everywhere I go everyone is like ‘it is the hardest track.’ Come here and they are like this is the hardest. Next we go to Darlington. I’m like OK, even the easiest track is going to be the hardest because everyone thinks it is the easiest and it is going to be hard to pass. I’m excited. That track has a lot of history and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
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