News & Media

Pastrana humbled, determined in rookie season

July 21, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

JOLIET, Ill. -- Extreme sports star impressing fellow drivers as he figures things out in the car

Travis Pastrana, star of motocross, supercross and X-Games, has come to learn this NASCAR stuff is not as easy as it looks.

"I'm getting my butt kicked and it's been tough. But I feel like I can drive a car," said Pastrana, minutes before taking the track at Chicagoland Speedway for Saturday morning's practice session in preparation for Sunday's Nationwide Series STP 300.

Travis Pastrana

2012 Nationwide Results
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It will be Pastrana's sixth Nationwide event and though he's yet to place better than 17th, he's far from discouraged.

"I love the learning process and love the teamwork. I love everything about it so far," said Pastrana, who was 12th-fastest among 42 cars in Saturday's initial practice.

Pastrana's learning curve on motorcycles began when he was four years old. At 28, he's enlisted the help of Camping World Truck Series driver Matt Crafton to mentor him in what he hopes will be a substantially faster transition to NASCAR.

But he has no illusions. He's seen how difficult the transition was for Ricky Carmichael, another two-wheel superstar.

"[Some motocross] people don't understand the racing side," Pastrana said. "They're like: 'It's easy. Just hold a pin and turn left.' [But] when the greatest of all time, who everyone knows works harder than anybody in the sport [of motocross] comes over and struggles for three to four years, people are going, 'Oh, maybe there's something to this.' And there definitely is."

Crafton has been impressed with his student from the get-go.

"I didn't know what he was going to be like -- if he was going to be one of these arrogant, kind-of-famous guys," Crafton said. "After the first day of working with him [I determined] this guy's all right. After the second day he asked me if I wanted to keep helping him. I said, 'definitely.'

"He really, really wants this and he will get it. He knows how to drive the race car. It's about breaking some of his bad habits. [For example], in some of the rally stuff, [drivers] use a ton of brake. That's 100 percent what you don't want to do in a stock car. You want to be smooth on the brake pedal."

Questions remain about how quickly Pastrana, whose entry into Nationwide was delayed a year by a broken ankle suffered in the 2011 X-Games, will be able to master such nuances.

"I started riding motorcycles at 4," Pastrana said "Didn't win a championship until I was 16, so there's years that go along with [mastering] everything."

And doing it in the media spotlight doesn't make it any easier -- even for a guy who once jumped out of a plane without a parachute.

"Right now, if I make a mistake in NASCAR it's on SportsCenter the next day. ... As opposed to rally where we had one full year of crashing, one year outside the podium every race, then the next year we won the championship. That was a faster progression than I think this learning curve is going to be, because there are a lot more really great drivers with great teams."

As much as he improves behind the wheel, it's that numbers game that Pastrana believes might restrict the tangible gains he makes against his competition.

"When you look at NASCAR, there are so many guys that are so good. I went to just a local track and qualified 21st and was less than two-tenths of a second off pole. So, the fine line in this is so precise."


"When you look at NASCAR, there are so many guys that are so good," he said. "I went to just a local track and qualified 21st and was less than two-tenths of a second off pole. So, the fine line in this is so precise."

Patience is not a virtue ingrained in Pastrana's nature.

"In motocross, everything is about aggression," he said. "So, for me [it's hard] to be patient with the driving -- not burning the right rear completely off the tire, not being sideways. [But I've learned] the harder I try to drive these cars, the slower I drive.

"Matt will say, 'Slow down your entry, slow down your entry.' I'm like, 'But they're pulling away.' He's like, 'Look this is how you set up the car. This is as fast as you can come in [to a corner] and you've got to beat them coming off the corner."

Another part of the learning process has been discovering each track is completely different.

"From the outside, I'm dumbfounded," Pastrana said. "There are [only] two corners. I'm like how can they be so different every single weekend? How can the line change so much?

"We went to Charlotte and it was cooling off toward the end of the afternoon during the final practice and we had a great setup. Then I went out in the race and I looked like a complete idiot -- and I felt like one. It's like, 'How can it change that much -- the track setup -- from just cooling down to warming up?'

"I got out in Richmond. We're moving up through the pack, passing [Brad] Keselowski. I'm like, 'This is going good.' They go into pit. I'm like, '[Our] car is good. We come out and they're all two-tenths faster. It's about just learning what you want out of a car."

Nationwide Series points leader Elliott Sadler has little doubt that Pastrana gets it. He views Pastrana as a positive presence in the sport and "a good dude."

"A couple of things I've noticed," Sadler said. "One is his larger-than-life personality. We're all kind of fans of Travis Pastrana and what he does in the sports world. The things he does are so daring and so out-of-control and wild. To see him come over to NASCAR and have the attitude that he's had has been unreal. He's a great guy, very much down-to-earth, speaks to everybody. He wants to learn.

"I really love that he's part of our program. I think he's brought a lot of new fans to our sport -- fans that are fans of his whole [MTV] Nitro Circus and everything he has going on."

As out-of-control as Pastrana might seem on a bike, Sadler has been impressed with how in-control he seems given his limited racing experience behind the wheel.

"That yellow sticker that [rookies] have on their bumper is a code word," Sadler said. "You always pay a little bit closer attention to those guys because of their inexperience -- where they might be on the race track.

"But he's shown a ton of courtesy if he's a couple laps down. He's raced you hard if he's on the lead lap. I think he's done everything right. I think he wants to. I think he wants to be a very successful driver in this series."

STP 300: Practice 1 | Final Practice